Things to Know About the NICU Before Going Into Labor

The majority of babies born with medical or surgical problems need to get admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after they are born.  There’s a common belief that NICUs are full of preemies, which makes total sense, since 1 in every 10 babies born in the U.S. is premature.  But the reality is that many NICU patients are full-term (≥ 37 weeks’ gestation).  On any given day in the NICU in which I work, about half of my patients are preemies and the other half are born right around their due dates.

The most common reasons that babies have to get admitted to NICUs include prematurity, birth defects (often involving the heart, kidneys, brain, and/or digestive system), breathing problems, metabolic problems (including low blood sugar), dehydration, infections, seizures, other neurologic issues, genetic syndromes, delivery complications, withdrawal from medications, and severe jaundice. 

Most NICU admissions end up being a huge surprise, as many of these problems, including infections and breathing problems, cannot be predicted ahead of time. If your baby is born with any of these issues at a hospital that does not have a NICU, he or she will need to be transferred to a hospital that has one. In some cases mothers are able to be transferred when their newborns are transferred, but this is not always possible. Mothers cannot be transferred if they require close postpartum monitoring by their obstetric teams and/or are not medically stable enough to leave the hospital they delivered at.

Jessica Madden
Jessica Madden
Dr. Madden is a board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist who has been taking care of newborn babies for over 15 years. She is currently on staff in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. She also provides in-home newborn medicine and lactation support to new mamas and is currently working to become an IBCLC.

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