What To Expect When Your Baby Is In A NICU?


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The neonatal intensive care unit, called the NICU for short, is part of a hospital that has specialized medical professionals and equipment to care for premature and ill newborn babies who need a high level of medical care. The staff in the NICU are highly trained in the treatment and care of newborns and the use of advanced life support equipment designed for small babies.

All hospitals do not have a neonatal intensive care unit. So, if your newborn needs that type of specialized medical care, you may have to go to a different maternity hospital.

When Do Babies Need The NICU?

A newborn baby may need treatment in a NICU for numerous reasons. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • babies born prematurely (at less than 37 weeks gestation)
  • babies with a low birth weight (less than 5.5 lbs.)
  • complications during labor and/or delivery
  • complications such as infections, respiratory problems, birth defects, or the baby needs surgery
  • babies who are twins, triplets, or other multiples

Newborns who need intensive care are typically sent to the NICU within the first 24 hours after they are born. The duration of the stay depends on the specific situation. The medical team will discuss with you how long they expect your newborn to be there.

What Happens In The NICU?

You may feel overwhelmed when you see your baby in the NICU for the first time. It’s a highly specialized area with a lot of equipment. Learning how the neonatal intensive care unit works may provide some level of comfort so you’re better able to concentrate on your newborn.

Most NICUs keep multiple babies in a single, open room. In the room, healthcare providers are constantly coming and going to look after these fragile newborns. New parents typically have limited access because there is an increased risk of infection for delicate babies. As a result, when you enter the NICU, you will be required to wash and sanitize your hands, and some units require you to wear hospital gowns, gloves, and a mask.

In the NICU, staff generally tries to keep stimulation to a minimum to allow babies to sleep, as it is during sleep that they grow and heal. That means there is often reduced sound and light in the room, and when babies are awake, they are handled minimally to help promote a quiet and organized state and to be able to go back to sleep as soon as possible.

Many parents are alarmed by all the equipment in the NICU, even though it is used to help their babies get well. Some of the machines and equipment you may encounter in the neonatal intensive care unit include:

  • Incubators – These are small beds that are surrounded by hard, clear plastic. Inside the incubator, the temperature is controlled so that the baby’s body temperature stays where it should be. There are holes in the sides of the incubator where doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers can insert their hands to care for the baby.
  • Infant warmers – These warmers are small beds with heaters over them to keep babies warm.
  • Monitors – Various monitors keep track of your baby’s vital signs. Some of the common monitors used in the NICU include:
    • Blood pressure is monitored using either a blood pressure cuff or through an arterial line.
    • Pulse oximetry, also known as a pulse ox, monitors your baby’s blood oxygen levels.
    • Temperature is monitored with a probe that is placed on your baby’s skin with a patch.
    • Chest leads are small stickers placed on your baby’s chest with wires that connect to monitors tracking heart and respiratory rates.  
  • Phototherapy equipment – Phototherapy is a treatment for jaundice, a condition that makes the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow. Most of the time, this therapy is only needed for a few days.
  • IVs and lines – Nearly all babies in the NICU have an IV, or intravenous catheter. It’s a thin, flexible tube that is inserted into a vein that allows medical staff to administer medication and fluids. Lines, which are different than IVs, are placed in arteries rather than veins, and they allow greater amounts of medications and fluids to enter the baby’s body.
  • Oxygen hood or nasal cannula – Babies who need oxygen may have a nasal cannula, tubes in the nose, or an oxygen hood placed over the head to keep their oxygen levels where they should be.
  • Feeding tubes – Many babies in the NICU are unable to breastfeed or take a bottle. So, they need to get their nutrition through a feeding tube that is inserted into the baby’s stomach through their mouth or nose.
  • Ventilators – These are machines that help babies who cannot breathe on their own breathe with a tube inserted into their windpipe.  

Does Medical Malpractice Happen In The NICU?

Unfortunately, medical negligence and mistakes are made in the NICU, just as in other medical settings. It may seem like medical malpractice should be rare in the neonatal intensive care unit because the nurses there are assigned far fewer patients to care for than in other parts of the hospital. In fact, sometimes, a baby in the NICU may have a dedicated nurse. However, that doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t happen.

In the NICU, errors happen in numerous ways, including:

  • Negligence on the part of a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional
  • Failure to communicate or miscommunication about the baby’s condition or treatment
  • Overlooking important information in the patient's history
  • Inadequate or inappropriate hospital procedures
  • Misidentification of patients

Do You Need An Experienced NICU Malpractice Lawyer In Pennsylvania?

Medical malpractice is dangerous for anyone it affects. However, it is especially dangerous for premature or sick babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. They are so small and delicate that even a small mistake or deviation in care can cause birth injuries or wrongful death.

The law office of Ross Feller Casey is here to help parents of babies who suffered harm while being cared for in the NICU in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Our lawyers are experienced with these types of cases, and we have a team of leading physicians on staff who are experts in medical treatments and procedures. They review medical records and determine whether medical malpractice is to blame.

If your baby suffered injuries as the result of medical malpractice while in a Pennsylvania neonatal intensive care unit, contact Ross Feller Casey today. We are here to help parents like you with the financial and emotional burdens your family carries due to your baby’s injuries.

We handle all of our cases, including those involving NICU malpractice, on a contingency basis, so you will not have to pay a thing until a financial recovery is made in your case.

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