What to Look for in a NICU

Most babies are born healthy. But when babies have a condition diagnosed in utero, are born early or experience complications during or immediately after delivery, they may need a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

In fact, the March of Dimes estimates that about 1 in 10 babies born in the U.S. require neonatal care.

For peace of mind, it’s important to explore your local options for NICU and to create a B.U.M.P., or baby urgent medical plan. Major differences exist in the quality of care babies and their families receive from hospital to hospital. Here are some questions to ask as you look at neonatal care in your area.

Not all NICUs are the same

When considering NICU care, you'll want to ask about the following:

  1. Volume and outcomes: How many babies are treated annually? What are the hospital’s results? For example, Texas Children’s Newborn Center treats more than 2,000 babies a year, making us one of the nation’s largest and most experienced NICUs. Research shows that babies treated at higher volume newborn centers have better outcomes, so this is very important.
  2. Round-the-clock care: Is there a neonatologist, nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse and respiratory therapist on-site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Are they dedicated only to the NICU? The top-level NICU's have on-site neonatal and pediatric surgeons and anesthesiologists, dedicated to round-the-clock care, who have experience with critically ill and premature infants. Learn more about the types of specialists who work in a fully staffed NICU.
  3. Environmental controls: Are efforts made to minimize the effects of sound and light on NICU babies? Exemplary hospitals ensure minimal activity at bedside, soft lights and low noise levels, which reduce stimulation and allow babies to rest.
  4. Nutritional care: Does the center encourage and support breastfeeding and offer human donor milk to preterm infants? Are neonatal nutritional specialists on staff? Learn more about breastfeeding while your baby is in the hospital.
  5. Respiratory care: Is the highest level of respiratory support available? Premature and ill infants may require advanced respiratory support.
  6. Parental support: Is the presence of parents and family encouraged 24/7? What support services are available to parents? Do they have overnight facilities for parents who want to stay on-site? Are parents encouraged to touch and hold their babies?
  7. Team approach: Is there a multidisciplinary approach to infant care? In addition to neonatologists and specialized nursing care, premature and sick newborns may need physical therapists, respiratory specialists, developmental specialists and dietitians. Input from this wide variety of specialists helps your baby receive care targeted to his individual needs. Facilities like Texas Children’s Hospital provide access to these kinds of experts.
  8. Transition home: How will the NICU help you and your baby get ready to go home? Are there rooming-in facilities to help ease the transition from hospital to home? Will your family's pediatrician be involved in discharge planning? Are parents given the skills needed to provide care once home?
  9. Ongoing research: What research is currently underway at the hospital? What research conducted in the hospital has resulted in improved care for newborns? Academic medical centers, like Texas Children’s, make advances in patient care, train the next generation of physicians and scientists and make medical breakthroughs that bring more options and more hope to patients and their families.
  10. Evidence-based care: Is your baby’s care in the hospital based on the most up-to-date information available? Are there guidelines in place to minimize tests and promote the best possible practices? Does the hospital train its staff to deliver evidence-based care? Texas Children’s Newborn Center staff provides evidence-based care developed from research that has shown what is best for newborn babies who need specialized care.Most babies are born healthy. But when babies have a condition diagnosed in utero, are born early or experience complications during or immediately after delivery, they may need a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).