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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 that needs NICU care. But knowing what to expect might help ease some fears.
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 or breathing problems, come to the NICU. While there, the babies are looked after by a multidisciplinary team that 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, eat and stay warm to get out of the NICU," says Erin Hamilton-Spence, MD, a neonatologist on the medical staff at Baylor All Saints Medical Center's Andrews Women's Hospital. "So your baby may need help for all three of those things when they first get here."
If breathing help is needed, you can expect that they might be put on extra oxygen. 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. Hamilton-Spence says.
Bonding can be a challenge when your baby is in the NICU, but it is important.
With the sickest babies, Dr. Hamilton-Spence suggests very gentle bonding, such as letting your child hear your voice as well as having skin-to-skin contact (to maintain the infant's body temperature) for babies who are healthy enough. And mother's milk is another important factor.
"Mother's milk is lifesaving medicine for our babies. Those who get breast milk go home sooner and are healthier overall," Dr. Hamilton-Spence says.
And while their baby is 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," she says.
To learn more about the NICU services offered at Baylor Fort Worth's Andrews Women's Hospital, visit BaylorHealth.com/AllSaintsNICU or call 1.800.4BAYLOR.
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