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What to expect if your baby’s in the NICUt

If your baby arrives early or is born with an illness, they may be whisked off to the Neonatal Infant Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN) for specialist medical treatment.

doctor glove holding tiny baby hand

Having your baby cared for in the NICU can be frightening, especially for first-time mums — but when you know what to expect, it becomes a little easier to cope.

If your little one is born premature or sick, you are not alone; thousands of Australian parents travel a similar journey every year when bringing their babies into the world, with as many as 15 per cent of all babies born each year requiring the help of a NICU (pronounced nik-you) or SCN.

Charity foundations such as Miracle Babies and Life’s Little Treasures are available to offer support and advice for parents and families faced with this situation. Miracles Babies has gone one step further by creating a book, Nurture, which is available to parents free of charge through hospitals. It can also be purchased online here.

Miracle Babies CEO Melinda Cruz says the team produced the book to “give families tools and advice in all areas of their hospital journey, from getting to know their baby to the neonatal care team, hospital routines, feeding, and supporting siblings. The book also offers stories from families who share their most intimate thoughts, feeling and photographs in support of families travelling a similar path.”

Why does your baby need specialist care?

“When your beautiful baby is born premature or sick, you enter a completely foreign world,” the book explains, confirming that babies are often admitted within the first 24 hours of their birth for the following reasons:

  • They are born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation).
  • They have a low birth weight (less than 2,500 grams).
  • Difficulties occur during their delivery.
  • They are full-term, but have a complication such as difficulties with breathing, infections, surgical needs or birth defects.
  • They are one of a set of twins, triplets or other multiples. These babies are often admitted to the NICU as they tend to be born earlier and smaller than single birth babies.

What are the chances that your baby will survive?

It’s a heartbreaking question to even ponder, and the good news is, the outcomes for premature babies are generally good. There are several factors that help determine a baby’s chance of survival, including:

  • Birth weight
  • Gestational age
  • Gender
  • Maturity of organs (especially the lungs) and presence of breathing problems
  • Baby’s condition at birth
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • Maternal health
  • Presence of congenital abnormalities
  • Antenatal steroids
  • Severe medical complications such as infections
  • Delivery at a hospital that offers specialist neonatal care

“The chances of survival increase as the baby gets older, but estimates are never exact. Some babies suddenly get sick with an infection and can pass away unexpectedly, while others are able to fight and survive,” the Miracle Babies team explains in Nurture.

“Your baby’s medical team will be able to give you as much information as possible to help decide what is the best course of action for the treatment and care of your baby. We encourage you to discuss any concerns with your baby’s medical team.”

What questions should you ask your doctor?

When your baby arrives early it is a stressful time for you and your family. Asking your baby’s medical team relevant questions will help you understand what is happening and what to expect in the days and weeks ahead.

  • Why was my baby born early? How serious is my baby’s condition?
  • Who is in charge of my baby’s medical care?
  • What types of tests are being given to my baby and what information will they provide?
  • How will this equipment or medication help my baby?
  • How will I be informed of any major change in my baby’s condition?
  • Can I still breastfeed and where can I find support?
  • How soon will my baby get better?
  • What are my baby’s chances for survival, and what outcome should I expect for my baby?
  • How soon can my baby come home?

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