Premature Infant - Getting to Know the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
premature infant (preemie) is admitted to the neonatal
intensive care unit (NICU) after birth, you will find out about new
technologies, new medical words, and new rules and procedures.
depend on the NICU staff members, including
nurses, to know how to care for your infant and to be
your teachers. With their help, you can quickly learn about your infant's needs and what you can do for your infant. Throughout your
infant's stay in the NICU, you will want to
keep open communication with the staff.
First you'll learn to scrub up
before visiting your infant's bedside. When you're there, you may be surprised by the number of
machines and instruments surrounding your child. Remember that because of these machines your premature infant has a much greater chance of doing
well than ever before.
At a minimum, your infant will be warmed and watched over with equipment that includes:
If your infant has additional medical needs, other tests
and equipment also may be used, including:
- A transcutaneous oxygen and/or carbon dioxide monitor, to constantly measure these levels in the blood without using a
- An intravenous (IV) site, for giving
medicine, fluids, and feedings.
- An umbilical catheter, for giving medicine, fluids, and feedings, and for drawing
- A ventilator, for help with breathing.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), for help
with breathing. (This is usually for mild to moderate
apnea of prematurity and mild lung problems or for weaning from a ventilator.
- A cranial ultrasound, to check for brain bleeding or
damage, usually between days 3 and 7 after birth.
- A chest X-ray, to check for lung damage. It may also be used to check the
positioning of an
endotracheal tube if one is used to assist with
- An abdominal X-ray. This is to check the
necrotizing enterocolitis and to check the position of
the umbilical catheter.
- An echocardiogram, to check the heart for
congenital heart defects or
patent ductus arteriosus.
- Phototherapy, to help treat jaundice.
Your role in your infant's care
At first sight,
you may question whether and even how to touch your tiny infant. Unless your
newborn is very sick or immature, you will be allowed to touch and possibly
hold him or her. But your infant's nurse or doctor will first need to show you
how to work around the technology and to alert you to your infant's special
needs. When visiting with your premature newborn, remember that:
- A premature infant has limited energy for
recovering and growing. Try not to wake your infant from sleep.
- A premature newborn's brain isn't quite ready for
the world. Be alert to
signs that your infant is being overstimulated, such as a change in heart rate or a need to turn away from you. This can be triggered by your gaze, voice, or touch,
or by sound and light in the room.
- A stable, more mature preemie
will thrive on periods of cuddling (kangaroo care), infant massage, and