What Is a NICU?

NICU levels

A neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a specific section of the hospital where all the facilities and medical staff cater to the health care needs of fragile newborns. Babies who are born premature, have significant difficulties with feeding, have congenital medical conditions or become ill after birth are all examples of babies who may need NICU care.

Different NICUs may offer different types of medical care and are assigned a level based on the complexity of care they are able to provide.

  • Level 1 nursery: Regular nursery care for babies born without complications.
  • Level 2 NICU: Care for babies who are born premature and/or ill babies who need neonatal specialty attention.
  • Level 3 NICU: A higher level of care for ill newborns who may need access to medical interventions that may include breathing support, feeding tubes, surgery and subspecialty care.
  • Level 4 NICU: The most advanced care available for newborns who are critically ill and may require advanced life support, complicated surgery, advanced nutrition support and a collaboration of subspecialists.

Planning ahead

Some expecting parents know that their baby will need NICU care due to a congenital medical condition or a medical condition diagnosed during pregnancy. In these cases, delivering at a hospital that has a NICU available can allow for seamless access to subspecialists and advanced medical equipment that your baby may need.

Even if you’re expecting an uncomplicated birth, however, it can be beneficial to prepare a B.U.M.P., or baby urgent medical plan, so that if your baby becomes unexpectedly ill, you know where to go.

As part of your B.U.M.P., include the addresses and phone numbers for the highest-level NICUs in your area along with your preference of facilities. If your baby needs a higher level of medical

care, you have the right to ask that your baby be transferred to the NICU of your choice. It’s good to research the options available in your area so you’ll be prepared, just in case you need it.