In a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), babies can be admitted for any one of several reasons, including premature birth, breathing problems, infections, and birth defects that can range from problems with the heart, metabolism, and structural systems.
Babies with such problems are often admitted to the NICU so they can receive acute and careful attention from neonatal experts that can help your baby get through their earliest days.
Nearly half a million babies are born prematurely every year. As a result of being born too early and too small, some premature babies run the risk of suffering from long-term health problems if they fail to receive the care they need.
When babies are born prematurely, they are at higher risk for suffering from jaundice, anemia, pauses in breathing known as apnea, and infections such as pneumonia and meningitis. Premature babies can also suffer from more serious and complicated illnesses such as respiratory distress syndrome, retinopathy and vision problems, and other various conditions that can affect the lungs, intestines, and heart.
From a long-term standpoint, babies born prematurely are at higher risk for developing autism, intellectual disabilities, vision and hearing loss, and cerebral palsy.
Although your baby may be born prematurely, the care newborns receive in the NICU can help them become healthy enough to be released from the hospital as soon as possible. Premature babies can often be released from the NICU and from the hospital when they weigh at least 4 pounds, can stay warm on their own without the help of an incubator, can eat and breathe on their own without assistance, and are shown to steadily gain weight in the days following birth.
Problems with breathing account for most NICU admissions. Babies in the NICU often face breathing problems as a result of having lungs that are not yet fully developed, and are placed on a ventilator to help them breathe in their earlier days.
Common breathing problems that babies may have when admitted to the NICU include:
- Apnea or periodic breathing. Babies may experience interruptions in breathing for up to 20 seconds.
- Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Babies are born with immature lungs.
- Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). Babies experience breathing problems due to high blood pressure in the lungs.
- Pneumonia. Infection of the lungs that can cause difficulty with respiration.
- Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Babies lack fluid in their lungs, which may eventually lead to collapsed lungs.
Babies in the NICU with breathing problems will often have sensors attached to their chests that are connected to a machine located near their incubators. Each baby admitted to the NICU for breathing problems will have nurses and other neonatal staff available to monitor the baby’s breathing patterns and heart rate. If any major pauses in breathing occur, the NICU staff members will take the necessary steps to revive baby’s breathing and get the health back on track.
Other conditions treated in the NICU
In addition to being admitted for breathing problems and premature birth, babies in the NICU may also be admitted for abnormalities with heart valves, blood vessel defects that restrict blood flow to major organs, problems with feeding, hypoglycemia, internal hemorrhaging, and jaundice.
No matter what problems your baby may have at the time of delivery, rest assured that a NICU has the equipment and staff needed to help your baby overcome any health problems experienced immediately following birth.
Shawnee Mission Medical Center has a Level III NICU with neonatal professionals from Children’s Mercy on duty around the clock. Contact Shawnee Mission Medical Center today to learn more about our maternity services, the Birth Center and NICU.