Neonatal Intensive Care: What to Expect


The neonatal intensive care unit is one of those places parents hope they never need, but are glad to know is available if they do. Because emotions run high when becoming a parent, it’s hard to prepare for having a child who needs NICU care, but knowing what to expect might help ease some fears.


Learn what you can expect in the event your child needs neonatal intensive care.

Setting Expectations

Any baby who is more than five to six weeks premature as well as babies who need help for other reasons, such as low blood sugar levels or breathing problems, come to the NICU.

While there, they’re looked after by a multidisciplinary team which includes a physician neonatologist, specially trained neonatal nurses, respiratory therapists, dietitians, pharmacists and physical therapists.

The big question is, what must happen for your baby to be well enough to leave the NICU?

“You have to be able to breathe without any respiratory support, take adequate breast- or bottle-feeds and maintain body temperature outside the incubator to be able to go home from the NICU,” says Vijay Nama, MD, medical director at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

If breathing help is needed, they might be put on extra oxygen with a mask or a breathing machine. Environmental and nutritional support will help meet the warmth requirement.

“Premature babies typically need to add body mass in order to be able to stay warm in an open room,” Dr. Nama says.

Bonding For Better Health

Bonding can be a challenge when your baby is in the NICU, but your care providers will help you overcome obstacles.

With the sickest babies, Dr. Nama also encourages very gentle bonding time such as letting your child hear your voice and having skin-to-skin contact (to maintain the infant’s body temperature) for babies who are healthy enough. Mother’s milk is another important factor.

“Mother’s milk is lifesaving medicine for our babies. Those who get breast milk from their moms go home sooner and are healthier overall,” he says.

While babies are in the NICU, parents are encouraged to visit frequently. “We have an open visitation policy for parents. They can be here any time of day or night,” Dr. Nama says.

To learn more about the NICU services offered at Baylor Dallas, click here.


This article originally appeared in the March 2013 edition of Baylor Health Magazine.

Neonatal Intensive Care: What to Expect