To help answer your questions we have created a list of the most frequently asked questions.
How long will my baby be on the unit?
It is very difficult to say exactly how long your baby will be on the neonatal unit as this will depend on his/her condition. However as a rough guide it would be fair to say that if born pre-term your baby will be on the unit until the original delivery date i.e. until they have reached term.
Will we be able to touch our baby?
We feel it is important for you to touch or cuddle your baby as soon as possible. When you baby is well enough we will help you to cuddle him/her which will be good for both of you. If your baby is not well enough for a cuddle then you can hold his/her hand, stroke his/her head or back, as they find this very soothing. As soon as the baby's condition is stable enough to allow him/her to be taken out of the incubator, you will be encouraged to come to the Unit at regular intervals and cuddle your baby.
Can I breastfeed if my baby is in an incubator?
If your baby is too unwell to breast feed we encourage and support you to express your milk for as long as your baby is on the unit. Breast milk can be stored for up to 6 months in the freezer if your baby is initially too ill to feed. The stored breast milk can then be given to your baby via the bottle or nasogastric tube.
What is all the equipment caring for my baby?
Most of the equipment can seem very frightening when you first come into the unit. Please see the section on equipment for more information of the individual equipment used.
What are the visiting times and facilities for us and our family/friends?
Units may vary, therefore we suggest you refer to the information on the individual units in the appropriate section to find out more about the visiting times and faciltiies.
Who will be caring for our baby?
The Senior Nurse and Sisters are in charge of the nursing staff, which includes nurses of all grades, some of whom are in training. The medical staff consist of Consultants, Registrars and Senior House Officers (SHO's). If your baby requires surgery a Paediatric Consultant Surgeon will also be involved in your baby's care. Other staff who you may see visiting the unit include; Physiotherapists, Radiographers, Pharmacists, Dieticians and Social Workers. The Social Workers help parents in practical ways, and can advise about benefits and maternity rights.
What is IC, HD and SC?
The levels of care will be classified as either Intensive Care, High Dependency Care or Special Care:
Intensive Care - this provides the whole range of medical neonatal care, but not necessarily all specialist services such a neonatal surgery.
High Dependency - this care involves the continuation of some breathing support and intravenous nutrition, together with some other care needs that babies have.
Special Care Baby Unit - This may involve tube-feeding, some additional oxygen support and light therapy (phototherapy) for babies needing this particular type of care.
How and when can we speak to a Consultant?
The best time to speak with a Consultant is usually at the end of a ward round. However it may be worth checking with the nurses to see if this is convenient or whether it would be better to book an appointment.
Where can we get more information?
We hope that the website will provide most of your information needs however there are links to numerous other relevant websites.
Can we, as the baby's parents, phone the Unit to ask about his/her progress?
Parents are usually given the direct number of Unit and may call any time of the day or night. We would prefer you to give us a call to reassure yourselves than sit at home worrying.
For practical reasons, we will limit the amount of information given over the phone, and will only give information over the phone to a baby's parents.
I need to travel to the Unit every day, how can I reduce the parking costs?
Most units will be able to help with long term parking tickets. Please speak with your nurse about what you can do.
What can I do for my baby during the first days on the Unit?
During the initial stages of your baby's admission to the Unit, it is important that you can just be with them as often as possible. It is good if you can talk to them and stroke them gently.
When your baby starts to recognise your voice, we know they become reassured. You should, however, balance this with your own need for sufficient rest and sleep.
If the baby's mother has chosen to breast feed, she can start to express her milk, which we can store until the baby can tolerate milk feeds. Our staff will help and advise you with this.
What is a Neonatal Network?
A Network consists of hospitals with differing types of neonatal units. The purpose of each network is to ensure, with only a limited number of exceptions, that mothers and babies receive their care within the Network or very occasionally, within an adjacent Network. Mothers should receive care as near to home as possible and to know in advance should a problem arise with their baby where and how care will be provided. They should offer families the greatest opportunity for local birth and also minimize transfers for intensive care to those which are necessary. For babies transferred for longer term intensive care, Networks would facilitate early return to a local hospital.
Each Neonatal Unit within the Network has been designated to provide different levels of care i.e. some units would only provide special care (level 1), most would provide high dependency and limited intensive care (level 2) and some the full range of intensive care (level 3).
What should I wear to visit the Unit?
All visitors entering the Unit must remove their outdoor clothing (eg coats etc). Because of all the equipment generating heat, the rooms can get very hot so we advise you to wear only light clothing.
When your baby is ready to be handled outside the incubator, we encourage both parents to hold the baby skin-to-skin on their chest. This is good for both of you. Mothers can usually start to breast feed at this time. Both of you will find it easier if you wear a shirt (or top) that opens down the front to give the baby easy access to your chest skin.
How many visitors can come to see the baby at a time?
Most units will only allow two adult visitors by your baby's cot at any one time. One of these must be one of the baby's parents. This aims to reduce the risk of any infection being spread in the Unit and because the rooms get crowded. If a large family wants to visit, they can take it in turns to come in with one of the parents.
When can I bring my baby home?
All parents are naturally anxious to get their baby home as soon as possible. We do, however, need to balance this with the best interest of the baby from a medical point of view.
If your baby was born early but is otherwise healthy, they can usually go home at about the time that they would have been 'term' (ie the due date). This can, however, vary depending on the baby's strength and growth.
If you would like to know more about your baby's condition and when they might be ready to return home, please ask your nurse or doctor who is caring for your baby on the Unit.
Why are some babies admitted to the NICU/ Special Care Baby Unit?
NICU stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and babies are admitted to the NICU for a variety of reasons, including if they:
Sometimes babies are transferred to us from other neonatal units because we have the staff, expertise and capacity to care for very sick babies.
Can I take photos of my baby?
When the baby is first admitted, a nurse on the Unit will take a photo and will give you a copy as soon as possible.
You are welcome to bring your own camera to the Unit and take further photos of your baby, but do not take any pictures of other babies in the room. The camera flash does not seem to harm babies but please try to limit its use as pre-term babies need undisturbed sleep to help them grow.
To prevent accidental loss, please take care not to leave your camera unattended.
I am worried my child will be frightened by the experience...
Most units welcome visits from the baby's siblings - just as long as they do not have obvious signs of having a cold or other infectious diseases.
In particular, they should not visit if they have had recent contact with children who have chicken pox (varicella zoster) or shingles.
If you have any questions or concerns about infections, please discuss them with the nurse caring for your baby.
We know it is good idea for the baby's brothers/sisters to come and visit their new brother and/or sister. It is important that they don't feel excluded from what is happening at this time to help prevent relationship problems developing in the future.
Children actually tend to 'accept' the machinery and tubing that we have on the NICU much more easily than adults tend to.
Very young children will need careful supervision. Short, frequent visits are usually preferable to a single long visit; this helps prevent them getting bored and restless.
Can I bring anything into the unit for my baby?
Parents and visitors usually want to personalise their baby's incubator. This is fine,but please bear the following in mind;
Can my visitors' children also come to the Unit?
Only the brothers and sisters of the baby (the parents' children) may visit. This is to minimise the risk of infection to this group of vulnerable babies.
Can I bring in clothes for my baby?
Most babies that are admitted to the NICU are initially unwell. At this time, they are best cared for in their incubator unclothed, which helps us to observe their progress closely.
Once your baby is getting stronger, we can start to clothe him/her. Some parents like to bring in their own baby clothes, which is fine but there is no need to do this because we have some baby clothes on the Unit, which we launder for you. If you bring your own baby clothes, it is safest to prevent losses by taking them home to launder - please also mark them in some way so that they can be identified.
Why do I need to wash my hands?
All visitors to the Unit must wash their hands when they enter the Unit and when they leave. This is because our babies are both vulnerable to infections and are more susceptible to having major reactions to simple colds than older infants.
Always wash and dry your hands and wrists thoroughly before touching your baby, and please use the alcohol hand rub.
Before touching your baby, if possible, please remove any rings and watches that you are wearing. Again, this is to minimise the risk of carrying infection to the baby.
I am worried that my baby is very fragile, and that I might do something wrong?
Please be reassured that our experienced nurses will be on hand in the Unit to help you. They will show you how to take care of your baby. Many of our babies' parents are anxious at first but all of them become very good at caring for even the tiniest babies.
What can I do for my baby in the Unit later on?
As your baby begins to get stronger and healthier, you will be encouraged to take an increasing part in your baby's care; this can help you gain confidence before you return home as a family.
Can other people phone the Unit?
To limit the disturbance of the staff of the Unit, we ask that relatives or friends should ask you, as parents, for current updates.
Depending on the circumstances of the parents, they may wish a relative or friend to act as their support person. As long as the parent lets the Unit staff know this and gives permission, we can share information by phone with the nominated contact person.
When can I visit my baby?
Most units have open visiting for parents but during the initial admission period, the doctors and nurses can be very busy caring for your baby. The nurses will let you know as soon as it is possible to come to see your baby.