NICU - FAQs

When your baby is admitted to the Neonatal Unit you will have lots of questions to ask. We will do our very best to answer them for you.

- On admission
- Going Home
- Development

Below you will find some of the more frequently asked questions and answers.

On admission

How long will my baby be on the Neonatal Unit?
We usually say, aim for your due date. Babies born nearer term maybe home before. Some very preterm babies may still need care in the Neonatal Unit beyond their due date.

Will I be able to care for and cuddle my baby?
Yes. We would encourage you to spend as much time with your baby as you wish. You will be shown how to care for your baby and a nurse will support your baby and you in this.

Can I touch or cuddle my baby anytime?
There may be some times if your baby is unwell when touching them will not be comfortable for them. Always check with your baby's nurse before touching them.

When your baby is older and having regular periods of sleep it is better to allow them to wake naturally rather than disturb them even if this does not coincide with your visiting times.

What is the best way to touch my baby?
Premature babies prefer a firm touch to light stroking. You can also use containment holding or give your baby a finger to hold. For more information on handling your baby please see the BLISS leaflet 'Handle Me With Care' on the neonatal unit or on the BLISS website.

Containment holding
Place one of your hands firmly but gently on your baby's head. Place your other hand either on your baby's tummy or around the legs and bottom.

Can my baby show me how they are feeling?
Your baby can show you if they are comfortable or uncomfortable. For more information on communicating with your baby please see the BLISS booklet 'Look at Me I'm Talking to You' on the neonatal unit or on the BLISS website.



As soon as your baby is well/stable enough, you will be able to cuddle him/her, even if he/she still needs to be ventilated. We encourage skin-to-skin cuddles, as this promotes bonding and helps mums breast milk supply. Please ask staff for more information.

Can I see my baby anytime?
Yes. We have open visiting for parents. Wednesday mornings are the only restriction. This is due to a teaching ward round and the need to keep the confidentiality of all the babies.

4.What is ventilation?
A ventilator gives oxygen and air into a baby's lungs. It can take over the work of breathing completely or help support the baby's own breathing.

A tube is passed into the baby's mouth and sits in the wind pipe, so equal amount of oxygen and air go into each lung The tube is held in place by a holder and tied to a net hat, using ribbon. The tube can stay in place as long as the baby needs it. Sometimes, we will choose to change the tube or it may become dislodged and need replacing. There are several types of ventilation.

  • CMV - This pushes oxygen and air into the baby's lungs, at a rate set by the doctors.
  • TRIGGER - Here, the baby can trigger the ventilator by it own breathing but the ventilator makes sure the baby gets a full breath and will breath for the baby if it doesn't trigger the ventilator within a set length of time
  • SIMV - Here, we can set the ventilator to give a set number of breaths per minute, which synchronise with the baby's own breathing pattern.
  • OSCILLATION - This uses very fast rates and makes the baby's chest vibrate, instead of going up and down. This can be a little worrying for the parents, but it is a good way to ventilate. The nursing staff will explain it to you if it is used for your baby.
  • CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure ventilation) - Here, the baby is breathing by its self but oxygen/air is blown into the baby's nose via a nasal prong/mask under pressure, which helps expand the lungs so makes the work of breathing easier. Some premature babies maybe on/off CPAP for months.

Please see the BLISS Webb site for more details.

5. What is Chronic Lung?
This maybe a term used for babies, if the baby still needs oxygen after 28 days and their chest x-ray has the patchy appearance, typical with chronic lung. disease.

Preterm baby's lungs are very stiff but in time the condition naturally improves, with respiratory support. As the baby recovers, healthy lung tissue grows. The length of time taken to recover will vary; some baby's will go home, still needing oxygen.
Please see the BLISS Webb site for more details.

6. Will I be able to breast-feed my baby, if it is preterm?
Not straight away, but eventually, yes.
Very preterm babies are fed via a naso gastric tube until they are able to co-ordinate sucking, breathing and swallowing. This may be several weeks or months but in the mean time you will be able to express milk for your baby. A pump will be provided for you form the unit. Staff will give you as much support and advice as possible, so please ask for help if you are finding expressing difficult.

Going Home

What weight does my baby have to be?
There is no magic weight for going home. If your baby is feeding orally on demand, they are gaining weight steadily and they can maintain their temperature in a cot, then he/she will be ready to go home.

What will I need to take my baby home?
We will give you lots of warning that your baby is nearly ready for home. You will be taught to care for your baby at home i.e. bathing, feeding, making up feeds up, if bottle feeding and giving medication. You will be invited to 'room in' with your baby, to care for him/her for 24-48 hrs, with staff support if needed.

I have twins, could one go home before the other?
Yes. If one is much further ahead than the other, it is likely that, that twin will go home before his/her sibling, but the other twin may return with you to visit.

What support will I have at home?
Your health visitor will be your main support once you are home. She will have been regularly updated on your baby's progress during its stay. Hopefully, you will have met or made contact with her before going home. She will visit you at home within 48 hours of your discharge home. Your baby will then be followed up regularly at her clinic.

What follow up will my baby have?
Generally, a 6-week baby clinic and a 3-month developmental clinic appointment, if your baby was born before 32 weeks and if it weighed 1500g or less. These babies are followed up until they at least 2-3 some will be seen right up to school age.
Other babies will be followed up who have specific medical problems.

How long will my baby need vitamins?
Your baby will need to stay on vitamins until he/she is fully weaned, so generally 1 year. You will be sent home with 2 weeks supply of your baby's medication, then you will need to have a repeat prescription from your G.P.

Do I have to give the vitamins at the same time every day?
No. Some babies tolerate them better if they are given at separate feeds. Find a routine that suits you.

If my baby becomes unwell, will he/she come back to the Neonatal Unit?
If your baby needs to be re-admitted to hospital, he/she will go to a paediatric ward at the General Hospital.

How do I know if my baby is warm enough?
Generally your house temperature should be between 18-20 c. You do not need to have your house at the same temperature as the Neonatal Unit. (25c). Dress your baby in layers, and then these can be added to or taken away. Never use your baby's hands or feet as a guide to warmth, as they are generally cooler than their body. Your baby will adjust to their new environment.

Development

What is "corrected age"?
The corrected age is the age a baby would have been if they had been delivered at term, or the age calculated from your estimated date of delivery.

What is the corrected age used for?
The corrected age is used when monitoring premature babies physical and speech development i.e. sitting, walking and talking.

What is the corrected age not used for?
The actual age of your baby is used for immunisations and feeding / weaning.

When do you stop correcting the age?
When your child is two years old

When will my child walk?
There is no set answer for this question as all children develop at different rates. Try not to compare one child with another. The most important thing is for children to have playtime in all different positions to encourage their development. If you have any concerns over your child's development you can discuss them with your consultant or bring your child to the Wednesday morning coffee morning for an assessment with the physiotherapist.

Can I put my baby on their tummy?
Yes. It is important that your baby has time to play on their tummy to encourage normal development patterns and head control. However this should only be done when your baby is awake and you are in the room with them. Your baby must be placed on their back to sleep. For more advice please see the leaflet 'Sleep on the back. Play on the front', available on the SIDS website (link on the right).

My baby wants to stand, is this o.k?
Not if your baby is unable to sit unaided and is not pulling itself to stand. Premature babies have a tendency to push their legs straight whenever the bottoms of their feet come into contact with anything. This is not 'standing' just a reflex or overactive extensors. This happens because premature babies have missed the final stages of pregnancy when they would have been tightly curled up (flexed) inside their mothers' wombs. In the earlier weeks they have practiced extending their limbs and can therefore be stronger at extending than flexing and need to be helped to flex in the early stages.

Are baby-walkers, door-bouncers and static standing gyms good for my baby to use?
No. These pieces of equipment can delay walking and encourage excess extension of the legs causing babies to stand on tiptoes.

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