Neonatal literally means 'newborn' and neonatal units specialise in the care of babies born early, with low weight or who have a medical condition that requires specialised treatment. One in eight babies born in the UK will spend at least a few days in a neonatal unit.
Some babies may have an infection and need antibiotics; others need breathing support or monitoring, or may be suffering from other medical conditions. The length of a baby’s stay may vary from days to weeks or months, depending on their needs.
Seeing your baby for the first time can be distressing, they may be surrounded by lots of frightening equipment and technology to help them breathe and monitor their progress. Your baby may also be very small and their appearance might not be what you imagined.
Many of the babies in the neonatal unit are extremely tiny and immature. The equipment surrounding them is designed to keep them warm, to monitor many of their bodies’ functions, and to support their breathing.
You're not alone in feeling frightened and/or shocked by the situation, staff members know you are under stress and are there to help you, as well as your baby.
Neonatal units: Definitions and facts
UK neonatal units offer three levels of care, intensive, high dependency or special care. These are described in general terms below with some examples of the care that babies receive. Also indicated are the British Association of Perinatal Medicine standards for nurse to baby ratios.
Special Care (Level 1)
For babies requiring continuous monitoring of respiration or heart rate; for babies receiving added oxygen, being tube fed, receiving phototherapy or recovering from more specialist care.
Special Care nurse to baby ratio – 1:4
High Dependency Care (Level 2)
For babies receiving oxygen from nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) but not fulfilling any of the categories for intensive care; any baby below 1,000gms who does not fulfill any of thecategories for intensive care; babies receiving parental nutrition, with apnoea requiring stimulation. High Dependency Care nurse to baby ratio – 1:2
Intensive Care (Level 3)
For babies needing respiratory support (ventilation); for babies weighing less than 1,000g and/or born at less than 28 weeks’ gestation and receiving nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP); for babies with severe respiratory disease or who require major surgery.
Intensive Care nurse to baby ratio – 1:1
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