Reasons why your baby may go to the NICU

Premature birth is just one reason why a baby may need a NICU stay. You may not plan for it, but here are some reasons a newborn may need intensive care.

When planning a pregnancy and birth, parents may not imagine that their child will need a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). However, there are many reasons a child may need to be admitted to the NICU.

When a child is born, a team of caregivers checks that a baby’s vital signs such as heart rate, temperature, breathing and color are within normal ranges. Babies whose mothers have conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or a history of drug use will need extra testing. After an examination, babies can be admitted to the NICU due to several circumstances and conditions.

Reasons a baby may get admitted to the NICU

  • Premature birth is the most common reason a baby is admitted into the NICU. A baby is premature if he or she is born before 37 completed weeks of gestation. Premature babies can experience problems such as low birth weight, unstable vital signs and irregular temperature. In the NICU, premature babies receive care in a safe, controlled environment. An incubator helps provide the baby with a constant body temperature. These babies are given high-calorie nutrition, intravenous hydration and other therapies based on any other conditions.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), also called infant respiratory distress syndrome, is a breathing disorder in newborns caused by immature lungs. Babies with mild RDS can be treated by using a machine that pushes air in through the nose to help keep the lungs distended. Babies with severe RDS can be treated with a breathing tube, as well as placing the baby on a ventilator.
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)is usually seen in premature babies, babies born to a mother experiencing gestational diabetes or infants with an infection.
  • Difficult birth can result indecreased blood flow and oxygen to the baby. Should this happen, neonatologists can treat the baby with whole body cooling, a method to help decrease brain injury that could occur due to decreased blood flow.
  • Maternal chorioamnionitisis a condition in which bacteria infect the membranes (chorion and amnion) surrounding the baby, the amniotic fluid and/or umbilical cord. Bacteria can cause infections in both the mother and fetus. This condition puts a baby at a high risk for an infection. After birth, the baby starts on antibiotics to clear the infection.
  • Sepsis or infection is more likely in a baby born early than in a full-term baby. Antibiotics may be used based on the type of infection and laboratory tests.

Norton Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Units

Our two NICUs are dedicated to caring for babies born prematurely or in need of advanced care or surgery.

Learn more

NICU care at Norton Children’s

Norton Children’s has Level IV and Level III NICUs available to provide your child with the best care possible. A Level IV NICU provides the highest level of care possible for newborns — highly trained doctors, nurses and staff are available, as well as specialized equipment and tools to care for babies born prematurely or with special health conditions. Norton Children’s Hospital is home to the region’s only Level IV NICU. Pediatric surgeons and other providers repair complex congenital and acquired conditions. Approximately 1,300 newborns are treated annually at Norton Children’s Hospital. At the Level III NICU at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital in St. Matthews, neonatologists and other specialists care for 750 fragile newborns every year.

Each of our NICU nurseries has a highly trained team that includes:

  • Neonatologists and specially trained nurse practitioners
  • Registered nurses
  • Respiratory therapists
  • Speech, occupational and physical therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Clinical laboratory technicians
  • Neonatal nutritionists
  • Lactation consultants
  • Developmental specialists
  • Transport specialists
  • Physician assistants