Neonatal Services (NICU)

Many hospitals offer intensive care units for newborns, but only a select few are rated by the American Academy of Pediatrics as Level 4 – the highest rating available – and even fewer are ranked among the best in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The CHOC neonatal program is that and more. With three neonatal intensive care units, a team of board-certified neonatologists and special units just for small babies and those who need complex surgery, no one on the West Coast is more dedicated to giving babies a healthy start.

Many Locations to Meet Your Baby’s Needs

private NICU hospital room for baby, CHOC in Orange, California
This top-rated Level 4 NICU at CHOC’s main hospital offers 91 beds, including 36 private rooms and specialty units to meet every clinical need.

private NICU hospital room for baby, CHOC at Mission in Mission Viejo, California
This Level 3 NICU is located in CHOC’s hospital on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital — steps away from the labor and delivery unit — and offers 22 beds in South Orange County.

private NICU hospital for baby, CHOC at St. Joseph in Orange, California
This Level 2 NICU is located on the CHOC floor of St. Joseph Hospital — steps away from the labor and delivery unit — and offers 13 beds with all private rooms.

Southern California
Regional NICU Network
CHOC neonatologists also treat NICU patients at more than a dozen hospitals located throughout Southern California.

Special Units for Customized Care

CHOC Hospital in Orange offers special units within the NICU to provide highly customized care for babies who are born between 24 and 28 weeks or weigh less than 1,000 grams, babies who need complex surgery, and babies who have neurological and cardiac concerns. You won't find this level of specialized care anywhere else on the West Coast.

The CHOC 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.
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.
The Cardiac NICU at CHOC provides comprehensive care for babies with congenital heart defects, including those complicated by prematurity, low birth weight or multi-organ disease. CHOC is the only hospital in Orange County that performs open heart surgery on newborns. Led by physicians who are dual-trained in both neonatal intensive care and cardiac intensive care, the eight-bed Cardiac NICU features the latest technology, including full ECMO support and the capability to perform emergency bedside surgery if needed. The Cardiac NICU promotes multidisciplinary collaboration with daily rounds between cardiac-neonatologists, pediatric cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons and neonatal-cardiac nurses, and the unit is actively researching techniques to maximize neuro-developmental outcomes and minimize long-term complications.

What do the different levels of NICUs mean?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) differentiates newborn care units by their ability to care for patients. At CHOC, we are proud to be a Level 4 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the AAP’s highest level, as well as Level 3 and Level 2 units at Mission Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital respectively.

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.

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. 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.

Virtual Tour


Support the NICU

Neonatologist Dr. Ashrafi and newborn baby in CHOC Cardiac NICU

Support services make a world of difference for families during their NICU stay. Donate to the CHOC Foundation and help us ensure families continue to receive the support they need.