What to expect if my baby has to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Women's Care, Family Health
May 21, 2020

Longtime St. Joseph’s/Candler NICU/Special Care Nursery nurse addresses some frequently asked questions about the care of our tiniest patients

If your baby is born prematurely or develops a problem after birth, it can be a scary and unexpected experience.

At the Mary Telfair Women’s Hospital at St. Joseph’s/Candler, we have a Level II Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) within Candler Hospital with a dedicated team of compassionate, highly-trained staff to care for infants born with low birth weights, complications or other difficulties. 

“It can be very distressing to have a baby and then the baby has to come up here,” says Lisa Loadholt, BSN, RN, resource coordinator and staff nurse in the NICU. “We try to make parents feel comfortable, reassured and confident in our care.”

Lisa Loadholt

The NICU/Special Care Nursery cares for mildly ill babies, Loadholt says. We also care for newborns that have to return to the hospital for additional therapy or treatment of medical conditions, such as jaundice. Babies that have to be readmitted for infectious issues are treated in Candler Hospital’s pediatric unit, The Children’s Place, to reduce the risk of spreading anything to other babies in the NICU.

Whether it’s unexpected or planned as a precaution, the NICU/Special Care Nursery staff wants mom and dad to feel as comfortable as possible while we care for their baby. Here are some commonly asked questions in the event your baby requires a NICU/Special Care Nursery stay.

Who are the people working in the NICU?

The NICU is staffed around the clock by many co-workers who play a part in the care of your baby including nurses, physicians and specialists. A neonatologist – a physician who specializes in the care of newborns, especially the ill or premature – is here 24 hours a day. There are also two dedicated nurse practitioners that help during the course of the week, Loadholt says. And many of the nurses have years of experience caring for our tiniest of patients. Loadholt herself has worked in the NICU/Special Care Nursery for 37 years.

How long will my baby be in the NICU?

That varies, Loadholt says, depending on how early your baby was born or the severity of the illness. Sometimes the doctors can provide an estimate for you. Regardless, you can rest assured that your baby will receive the best medical care possible. Our experienced staff is loving and gentle, caring for each infant with compassion and skill.

How often can I visit my baby?

Due to COVID-19, visitation restrictions are in place that impact the NICU/Special Care Nursery. At this time, only one parent is allowed to visit their baby during the day. The parent will be screened upon entering the hospital to make sure he or she shows no signs of COVID-19.

When visitation restrictions are lifted, parents can visit their baby anytime, except during shift change, which is daily at 6:45 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. Shift change usually lasts about 30 minutes. If you are already there visiting your baby, you are welcome to stay and get an update on your baby’s progress, Loadholt says.

Can others visit my baby?

Under the normal visitation policy, St. Joseph’s/Candler still has some restrictions on other NICU/Special Care Nursery visitors besides mom and dad. No one under the age of 18 (unless the parents are younger than 18) is ever allowed in the NICU/Special Care Nursery, says Loadholt. Those older than 18, usually it’s the grandparents, can visit the baby if the hospital isn’t under flu or COVID-19 restrictions and if the adult is healthy. Otherwise, as long as the adult visitor is healthy, mom or dad can add them to a visitor list to see your baby.

If mom delivers, for example, while dad is deployed overseas in the military, she can designate a support person who can visit and get information on the baby, Loadholt adds.

How do I get information about my baby when I’m not there?

We understand that you may not always be able to be by your baby’s side, especially if you have other kids at home. The NICU team encourages you to call anytime for updates on your baby or to ask any questions. All communication with you is confidential. Before a co-worker will provide you with any information, you must provide the band number. Mom and dad, or the designated support person, will be given bands during their baby’s stay. Only mom and dad will be given information over the phone, Loadholt adds.

Can I hold my baby?

Yes, you can hold your baby during your visits. If your baby is very ill, Loadholt says they may limit the time baby is held because some babies can’t handle a lot of stimulation when they are sick. Or, if the baby is extremely underweight, he or she is at risk of a drop in body temperature. But even if your baby has a lot of medical equipment, the NICU staff will work with you and baby to do skin-to-skin contact.

“This helps momma feel more comfortable, and it does calm the baby and make the baby feel almost as if they are back in the womb to hear mom’s heart beat and have the scent of mom and hear her voice and feel her warmth,” Loadholt says.

Related Article: What is skin-to-skin contact following birth?

Can I breastfeed?

If you make the decision to breastfeed, the NICU staff will work with you to breastfeed and/or pump. In fact, it’s encouraged. Breast milk is beneficial to any newborn, but especially premature babies as breast milk is easier on their tummies, Loadholt says. Additionally, breastfeeding gives moms some feeling of normalcy in a situation where they don’t have a lot of control, Loadholt says.

Related Article: What are the benefits to breastfeeding?

Other things to know:

  • The NICU/Special Care Nursery is a securely locked unit. To get in to see your baby, a member of the staff at the front desk will confirm your band number and allow you access, or confirm you are on the visitor list. If the front desk is not staffed when you visit, there’s a phone that rings the nurses who can give you access.
  • We ask that you limit cell phone use. You are welcome to take photos, but talking on the phone is discouraged. Many of these babies are very ill and loud noises can impede the baby’s wellness, Loadholt says. The staff encourages you to talk to your baby but at a reasonable level as not to over stimulate baby.

The NICU/Special Care Nursery staff keeps snacks, juices and other items on hand for mom and dad. It’s especially important for mom to stay hydrated if she’s breastfeeding. The Ronald McDonald Room is also available for parents. It includes snacks, washer and dryer, computer access and is a nice way to have a different scenery than the four walls of the NICU, Loadholt says.


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