Children's Health

What to Expect in the NICU for Parents

Baby hand in hospital

You’ve been excited to welcome your little one to the world for months. The nursery is prepared, car seat was installed and a special outfit is set aside for her homecoming. But then, she decides to come earlier than expected.

Premature birth is common, but it can be a concerning time even for experienced parents. Premature babies may need to spend several days or longer in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Learning more about the unit can make the process less daunting if your newborn is admitted.

When Does a Baby Visit the NICU?

A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature. An unborn baby experiences vital growth and development during the final weeks of a pregnancy. When babies are born early, they need special medical care to help build strength and need to be monitored for potential health problems.

Some reasons that may increase the likelihood of a woman delivering preterm include:

  • Age—Teens or women 35 and older may go into labor early
  • Carrying multiple babies
  • Infection
  • Previous preterm birth
  • Stress
  • Tobacco or substance use

Understanding the Unit

Between the high-tech equipment, bright lights and constant alarms, the first time you visit the NICU can feel overwhelming. But in reality, this environment was designed to give your baby the best chance at growing and becoming healthy. Here is some of the equipment used for premature infants:

  • Incubators—Babies are often placed on a bed inside a large, plastic enclosure called an incubator to keep their temperature regulated.
  • Monitors—Monitors keep your baby’s nurses and physician aware of his heart rate, temperature and breathing rates.
  • Lines and tubes—Your baby may need an IV to deliver small amounts of medication. Or if your baby needs more fluid and medication, a surgeon may place a larger tube called a central line. A feeding tube may also be placed for a baby who can’t yet take a bottle or breastfeed.
  • Ventilators—Some babies may have a breathing machine connected for help with this vital function.

How to Cope

Experiencing preterm labor can be an intense emotional journey. While the neonatology team at The Children’s Hospital of Georgiahas your infant’s health as top priority, we also ensure our parents are well taken care of. 

We offer resources for those at high risk for premature birth, including a Fetal Care Program that connects high-risk mothers with a fetal medicine specialist. If your child does need to visit the NICU, we provide educational information and courses about the unit and how to prepare for discharge home. We are here to support you during this time your newborn baby receives the best care possible.

The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has the only Level IV NICU in the region. Call 1-888-721-5437 to learn more about our NICU services for premature babies and their families.

About the author

Children's Hospital of Georgia

Children’s Hospital of Georgia is the only facility in the area dedicated exclusively to children. It staffs the largest team of pediatric specialists in the region who deliver out- and in- patient care for everything from common childhood illnesses to life-threatening conditions like heart disorders, cancer and neurological diseases.