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Neonatal Care (NICU)


There’s no place like CHOC Children’s for newborn babies who need intensive medical attention. Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 20 neonatal intensive care units in the country, our NICU combines the latest in life-saving technology and trained neonatal specialists to provide care for the tiniest patients.

Here for You, Before You Need Us

During the course of a pregnancy, prenatal testing may identify issues with your baby that will need attention immediately after birth. You have a choice about where to bring your baby for medical care. Our highly trained neonatologists and pediatric specialists will meet with your family before birth to discuss a comprehensive plan for transferring your baby to CHOC and mapping out the tests, procedures and treatments your baby will need. Talk to your obstetrician about making CHOC the preferred hospital for your baby after birth.

NICUs Serving Three Hospitals

We proudly offer a Level 4 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at CHOC Children’s Orange, rated by the American Academy of Pediatrics at the highest level of care possible. Families at Mission Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital also have access to CHOC specialists at our NICU locations within our partner hospitals.

CHOC Children’s Orange NICU

Our 54-bed tertiary/quaternary NICU includes four multi-patient rooms, six single care rooms, four private rooms for “rooming in,” and two four-bed suites. With access to a full range of CHOC pediatric subspecialists, the NICU offers a life-saving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) unit – the only one of its kind in Orange County – as well as advanced respiratory support such as high-frequency ventilation and inhaled nitric oxide, advanced imaging without the need for anesthesia in many cases and innovative procedures including mandibular distraction and epidural anesthesia. Learn more about what to expect in the CHOC NICU.

CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital NICU

Babies born at Mission Hospital can receive critical care in our 22-bed, Level 3 NICU at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital. Our neonatal care teams are able to be present during high-risk births and can start critical care within minutes. Among the full spectrum of neonatal equipment available, CHOC Mission is the first children’s hospital in California to offer the NICVIEW webcam system, allowing families to see real-time, live video of their infant remotely, from anywhere they can log on to the Internet. Learn more about CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital.

CHOC Children’s NICU at St. Joseph Hospital

Just steps away from St. Joseph Hospital’s postpartum unit, our NICU keeps parents and babies close together in our brand new 13-bed, Level 2 NICU, featuring all private rooms and comfortable accommodations for families. If a problem develops during delivery, CHOC’s neonatal team is immediately available to stabilize the baby and begin treatment as necessary. Learn more about CHOC Children’s NICU at St. Joseph Hospital.

Special NICU Units for Surgery, Neuroscience and Cardiology

Within our NICU, special areas are designated for babies with surgical, neurological and cardiac needs.

  • We are one of only a handful of hospitals in the country to offer a surgical unit in our NICU, providing specialized care for babies who need surgery. Our neonatology and pediatric surgery teams collaborate at a level not seen at most hospitals, and together they have set specific standards for caring for babies who need surgery. Learn more about our Surgical NICU.
  • Special rooms of our NICU are designated for the Neurocritical NICU, where we have the expertise and equipment to carefully treat babies with neurological issues such as seizures, asphyxiation and brain damage. Our pediatric board-certified neurologists are available 24/7 to partner with our neonatologists to make a specialized treatment plan together for our patients. Learn more about our Neurocritical NICU.
  • Our NICU includes a Cardiac Unit where we offer fetal testing for mothers with high-risk pregnancies that may result in congenital heart diseases. Our fetal-certified echocardiographers can perform an early diagnosis, allowing us to create a coordinated care team that includes cardiologists, perinatologists, neonatologists and heart surgeons before a baby is even born.

The Only Small Baby Unit on the West Coast

The CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit is a very special unit within our NICU where we care for the unique needs of the smallest and sickest babies. Designed for babies born at 27 weeks gestation or less or who weigh less than 1,000 grams, it is the only unit of its kind in the Orange County area. Its dim lighting and low noise levels are designed to aid in the babies’ development. Published studies show that babies born before 28 weeks gestation or weighing less than 1,000 grams do better in a dedicated, high-volume program like ours where the specially trained team provides guidelines-driven care. Learn more about our Small Baby Unit for preterm, premature and low birth weight babies.

NICU premature baby

Health Features

The Knowledge You Need for Parenting a Preemie
A premature baby or preemie is born before 37 weeks of gestation. They often require hospitalization. Learn about parenting a preemie in this Health feature.

Breast Milk Benefits for Mom and Baby
Breast milk is the ideal food for babies says Dr. Christine Bixby, CHOC’s medical director of lactation services. Learn about the health benefits of breastfeeding in this Health feature.

Common Birth Defects
Common birth defects include: heart defects, cleft lip, cleft palate, Down syndrome and spina bifida. Learn about preventing and coping with defects in this Health feature.

Exams at Birth
Moments after a baby is born a brief exam is conducted. The thorough test checks the baby's head, eyes, ears, mouth, heart and hips. Learn about exams at birth in this Health feature.

Whether it's a premature birth, a birth defect or complications before birth, we're prepared for anything.

Congenital Heart Problems
Dr. Pierangelo Renella explains the advantages of early detection of congenital heart defects and disease, which can be identified in the mother's womb.

Correcting Facial Birth Defects
Dr. Jason Toranto speaks about Pierre Robin sequence, a condition in which an infant has a facial abnormality that causes difficulty in breathing and requires surgery.

Finally, a Family
After years of trying to start a family, Breanne and Kristopher Kessler were ecstatic to learn they were expecting twins. But when Breanne was only 30 weeks pregnant, something went wrong.

Visiting the NICU

The CHOC Children’s NICU is located on the second floor of the hospital at 1201 W. La Veta Ave., Orange, CA 92868. You may reach the NICU directly at 714-509-8540.

If you have questions about our neonatology programs or would like to refer a patient, please call 714-509-3096.

Visiting Hours

Parents and legal guardians are welcome in the NICU 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Other family and friends may visit anytime with the exception of 6:30-8, both a.m. and p.m. Learn more about visiting the NICU in our frequently asked questions.

Not All NICUs are Created Equal

Many hospitals have NICUs, but not all NICUs are the same. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) differentiates newborn care units by their ability to care for patients. At CHOC Children’s, we are proud to be a Level 4 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the AAP’s highest level.

What is Level 4 care?

Bringing a baby to our neonatal intensive care unit means that child will be provided the greatest care possible with the latest advances in medical treatment by specially trained physicians and nurses. Most hospitals offer Level 1 neonatal care. The basic care in these units includes a well-newborn nursery, the evaluation and postnatal care of healthy newborns, neonatal resuscitation and the stabilization of ill newborns so that they can be transferred to a more advanced hospital, like CHOC.

Beyond the first level, units are recognized as providing specialty neonatal care (Level 2) and intensive care (Level 3). As a Level 4 unit, we exceed the standards of a traditional NICU. We provide care to babies of all birthweights and gestational ages. Our pediatric surgeons and anesthesiologists are on site to perform minor and major surgery—in some cases, even in the patient’s bed. We provide advanced respiratory support such as high-frequency ventilation and inhaled nitric oxide and offer prompt, on-site access to a full range of pediatric medical subspecialists. We also offer advanced imaging such as MRI with the ability to have experienced pediatric radiologists read those images quickly. We are also able to provide ECMO, cardiac critical care, therapeutic body cooling, real-time seizure monitoring and much more. Learn more about the life-saving technology used in our NICU.

Do Your Homework

While it is comforting for most parents to know that CHOC neonatologists—physicians specially trained to treat newborns and their unique health conditions—practice at or have privileges at hospitals throughout the region, it is important to research the actual level of care available at or near the hospital in which a child will be born. It is also important to note whether each given NICU provides the same level of care for all babies. Some hospitals can only provide higher levels of care for a small amount of babies; CHOC is licensed to provide Level 4 (Level IV) care for all of our patients. In many cases, our physicians may be able to be in the delivery rooms for at-risk babies, but if they do not have the life-saving equipment the baby needs close at hand, they will have to have the baby transported to CHOC Children’s.

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UC Irvine

CHOC Children's is affiliated with the UC Irvine School of Medicine