Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

A neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is the unit of the hospital in charge of treating newborns with health complications, usually – but not always – as a result of being born prematurely. The length of a NICU visit varies depending on the baby’s condition.

It could be days, weeks, or even months. NICUs are equipped with high tech equipment to provide neonates the care they need to fully develop and go on to live a healthy and fulfilling life. A NICU is exclusive for newborn babies. Children up to the age of 17 get treated in a PICU, and adults 18 and older receive care in the ICU.

Common Conditions Treated in the NICU

Sick newborns and premature babies present a host of health conditions that thankfully can be treated in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Some of the most common conditions treated in NICUs include:

  • Respiratory failure – complications that arise when the body’s respiratory system is unable to fully supply oxygen or remove carbon dioxide form the body. It can occur due to a variety of reasons which include: trauma, obesity, injury, inhalation of carbon monoxide, and more.

  • Pneumonia – an infection in the lungs which makes it difficult to breathe. The severity of the condition varies from case to case and it is usually caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

  • Apnea – occurs when people temporarily stop breathing, especially during sleep. It can lasts a few seconds, or minutes, and occurs several times an hour.

  • Heart defects – congenital heart defects are cardiac conditions a baby is born with. They are one of the most common birth defects and affect how the heart works and its shape.

  • Feeding problems – neonates cannot drink breast milk or formula, they need a little more help which usually comes from a feeding tube or a needle in their vein that supplies them with glucose and nutrients.

  • Sepsis – harmful bacteria present in tissues.

  • Jaundice – yellowing of the skin caused by problems in the liver.

The Four Levels of NICUs

Even within a highly specialized unit such as the NICU, there are subdivisions – in this case levels – that are even more specialized to target specific patients. All NICUs are created to help newborns who need a little extra help, but there are different levels of care depending on the baby’s condition.

  • Level I: Babies are full-term and healthy. It serves to stabilize babies and getting them ready to be transferred to other units.
  • Level II: For babies who have recovered from more serious conditions and have moved up in the levels of care, or a baby born after 32 weeks gestation.

  • Level III: Cares for babies born before 32 weeks gestation or born with critical illnesses.

  • Level IV: The highest and most acute level of neonatal care. Usually found in hospitals that can operate on neonates with complex conditions.

You can learn more about Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing job opportunities or find more information about certifications that will take your career to the next level.