What to Expect
If your baby has recently been admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at CHOC Children’s, you likely have a lot of questions about the care your child is receiving. The information below covers a lot of the basic questions our patients’ families ask. You may find this information helpful as you are learning more about your child’s care or explaining the NICU to your family and friends.
There have been many advances in the care of sick and premature babies—not just in technology and medicine, but also in meeting their special emotional and developmental needs. In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), babies experience tests, procedures, noises and lights—all very different from the warm, dark, comfort of their mother’s womb. Some babies are too sick to be held or have difficulty comforting themselves when not being held. Premature babies especially need a supportive environment to help them continue to mature and develop as they would in their mother’s womb.
Developmental care is a very important part of the overall care we provide patients at CHOC Children’s. This type of care involves meeting comfort needs and helping babies feel secure, developing normal sleep patterns, and decreasing stimulation from noise, lights and procedures. The NICU multi-disciplinary staff strives to understand the individual needs and personality of each infant through the baby’s behaviors and responses.
Our NICU medical team makes every effort to:
Make treatments less stressful.
In order to make care and treatments less stressful for newborns, we make sure the treatments and assessments are performed as quietly and with as little light as possible. We also handle babies in special ways that have been found to decrease psychological and behavioral stress.
Keep babies positioned for their best comfort, growth and development.
Premature babies do not have the same muscle tone and strength to control movements of the arms, legs or head that full-term babies have. Babies are put into the best positions to protect sleep, promote joint protection and facilitate motor development. Our Giraffe beds are designed to minimize any unnecessary stimulation to our babies. The beds rotate 360°, can be lowered or elevated as needed, and slide out of the temperature-controlled microenvironment to make it easier to position the baby for all types of procedures without disturbing the infant. Giraffe beds have a special pressure-diffusing mattress that relieves pressure points and helps keep baby’s skin healthy and even have a built-in scale so that it is easy to track the baby’s growth.
Reduce sound and light.
Loud sounds are a concern because they may damage the baby’s developing ears and are a stress to the baby. Small babies are sensitive to light. Bright light may cause injury to the eye, can disturb body rhythms and sleep patterns and can keep the baby from opening his or her eyes and looking around.
Reduce the amount of times the baby is disturbed.
We group our care times to protect the baby’s sleep. It is during deep sleep that babies grow and heal. When awake, handling and movement is minimized to help the baby maintain a quiet, organized state and be able to return to sleep as soon as possible.
Work with parents so that they can be part of their baby’s care team.
It is important for the baby that the parents partner with the medical team and are involved in the daily care of their baby. Parents will become very aware of their baby’s cues with time and training and they can help direct the care and plan of their baby. Also, parents can participate in skin-to-skin holding which is a powerful tool for family bonding and will help the baby develop and grow strong. Parents are an integral part of helping the baby learn to eat by mouth when they are medically ready.
Frequently Asked Questions about the NICU
CHOC’s NICU is located on the second floor of our hospital. Most babies will stay in the west wing of the unit. Babies born at 27 weeks gestation or earlier or weigh less than 1,000 grams will go to the east wing on the NICU, which is known as the Small Baby Unit. Learn more about the Small Baby Unit.
• Kidneys and digestive tracts that don’t function well
• Breathing problems due to immature lungs
• Intestines damaged by infection
• Slow heart rate
• Fluid buildup on the brain
• A low red-blood-cell count
• Damage to the eyes
Twins, triplets and other multiples are also often admitted to the NICU, as they tend to be born earlier and smaller than single-birth babies.
Siblings two and a half years and older who are feeling well and are free of cold, cough, fever or any communicable disease are welcomed in the unit. A health screening and verification of current immunizations will be required in advance and each time the sibling enters the unit. CHOC does not offer childcare, but in some cases may be able to assist families in making arrangements with a local care provider.
Located a few blocks from the hospital, the 20-bedroom Orange County Ronald McDonald House is a place where parents can rest without being far from CHOC. A social worker can assist with more information on accommodations.