About Neonatal Care

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What is a Neonatal Unit and Neonatal Care? 

The neonatal unit is a specialised service dedicated to the care of premature and sick babies, this means that if a baby is born needing extra support and care, a team of health professionals is available to support you and your baby. The reasons for an admission can vary, but common reasons may include if your baby; 

  • Is born early (before their due date), sometimes known as premature or extremely premature 
  • Is born with a medical/surgical condition that needs intervention 
  • Is born unexpectedly sick

Most admissions to neonatal units will start after your baby has been born, but sometimes you will know in advance that your baby will need extra care. In both cases you will be supported either by the foetal medicine teams and/or the neonatal teams.  

The length of time you and your baby will spend on the neonatal unit will be based on your baby’s needs, sometimes this can be a few hours, a few days or even a few months. Neonatal teams acknowledge parents as experts and work together as partners in your baby’s care. To enable this, parents are supported to be present with their babies as much as possible, encouraging shared decision making with the clinical team, engaging in a level of care you are comfortable with and strengthening your bond with your baby.  

Introduction to a Neonatal Unit

The video below will introduce you to a neonatal unit and help you to understand the typical equipment that is used, how you can work in partnership with the staff on the unit, and how they can best support you on your journey. 

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Your Role on the Unit 

Your role initially can feel strange, with a shift in control and decision making for your newborn baby. Neonatal teams recognise this and acknowledge that parents are not visitors but essential partners in your baby or babies’ care. This means as parents you are welcome to be present on the neonatal unit at any time, day and night.   

At this time, you and your baby will rely on each other to establish a loving bond that will last a lifetime. Even the very best medical treatment cannot replace a parent’s love and care. 

Your role in caring for your baby on the unit is very important for both you and your baby’s wellbeing and the neonatal team will support you with this, which will help you increase your confidence.  

There are many ways in which you can care for your baby whilst they are on the neonatal unit and your bedside nurse will support you to:  

  •  Provide your baby’s daily care; feeding them, changing their nappy or bathing them.  
  • Express your breastmilk; even if you are not planning to breastfeed, expressing your breastmilk (even for the first few weeks) can help protect a baby from infection; it is also extremely important for premature infants to receive this to protect their fragile tummies  
  • Reading, singing or talking to; your baby knows your voice and hearing it brings them comfort and releases a hormone called oxytocin, which helps you and your baby to feel connected and supports your baby’s brains development.  
  • Bonding with your baby; you can achieve this through comfort care, kangaroo care and skin to skin. This helps produce oxytocin, the “love hormone” which parents and babies feel when they are in close contact with each other.  
  • Joining the ward round; you know your baby better than anyone else and it is important to try to attend the ward rounds to receive updates on your baby’s condition and report any changes, concerns or questions you may have to the team – your presence at this time is encouraged and welcomed. 

Both parents are encouraged to spend as much time with their baby as they can but there may be times where you are asked to step out of the baby’s nursery, if confidential or sensitive information regarding another patient is being discussed. Some units offer parents headphones to wear during the ward rounds to maintain confidentiality.   

All neonatal units have a visiting policy for siblings, grandparents and other nominated adults. Please speak to your nurse or nurse in charge to find out what the local visiting policy is. 

Your Baby’s Care Team 

During your stay on the neonatal unit, you may meet several different healthcare professionals, who partnered with parents, form the multidisciplinary team (MDT). Some of these will include neonatal doctors & nurses, support workers, allied health professionals, psychological professionals and infant feeding teams. There are more multidisciplinary staff which you can read about in the Meet the Team section.  

The video below shows elements of a typical stay in a neonatal unit: 

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Feeding Your Baby 

Feeding your baby on the neonatal unit can be different to what you had planned, but you can still find the best way for you and your baby. Whether you have chosen to breastfeed, give your baby expressed breastmilk or use formula milk, your neonatal team will be there to support you.  

Below you can find links to websites that explain the different ways of feeding on a neonatal unit, the benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding to you and your baby and challenges you may face. Whilst these websites will provide information, please do speak to your neonatal team if you have questions or need some support with feeding your baby. 

Most neonatal units are working towards the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative, which is an accreditation system that all maternity, neonatal and community services use. The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative enables public services to better support families with feeding and developing close and loving relationships so that all babies get the best possible start in life.  

For more information on the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative, please click this link
Learn more about the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative 

This link will take you to the BLISS Charity webpage on feeding information
Feeding | Bliss  

This link will take you to the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative support for parents’ page
Support for parents – Baby Friendly Initiative (unicef.org.uk) 

This link will take you to the First Steps Nutrition Trust, an organisation dedicated to nutrition from pre-conception to five years
First Steps Nutrition Trust 

This link will take you to a leaflet on a ‘Guide to bottle Feeding’ – How to prepare infant formula and sterile bottles
Bottle feeding leaflet (unicef.org.uk) 

Going home with your baby/babies

When it is time to go home with your baby, you may feel several different emotions. Elation and relief that your baby is well enough to leave the unit and begin life at home; but also, a great deal of apprehension as you transition into life without the comfort blanket of the neonatal environment that you’ve become so accustomed to.  

Parents tell us that these feelings and emotions are completely normal and that life outside of the unit can take time to adapt to, so give yourself this time and space to adjust and be kind to yourself. You have been on a rollercoaster journey, and you’ve accomplished and overcome so much in that time. 

Upon discharge, there may be an overwhelming amount of information to retain and lots to think about. To help guide you through this period, the BLISS website outlines areas such as; preparing to go home, home oxygen, medical support when you go home and how you may feel when you go home. Please follow this link for more information: Going home from the neonatal unit | Bliss 

Neonatal Follow-Up 

After leaving the neonatal unit, you and your baby may need to attend follow-up appointments that focus on your baby’s health and developmental progress. Your unit team will let you know when these appointments are, and how frequently you need to attend the clinic. This pdf leaflet provides more information about what Neonatal follow-up could look like. 

In neonatal units the common metric for weighing your baby will be grams or kilograms. If you would like to know your baby’s weight in pound and ounces, please see the link for more information.

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