Newborn babies who need intensive medical attention are often admitted into a special area of the hospital called the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Most babies admitted into the NICU are premature (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy), have low birthweight (less than 5.5 pounds), or have a medical condition that requires special care. Dr. Vijay Dhar, medical director of the CHOC Children’s NICU,understands the fear and anxiety experienced by parents of NICU patients. As a veteran neonatologist, Dr. Dhar advises parents to ask their care team the following questions to help alleviate some of that anxiety:
• What is the anticipated length of stay for my baby? A NICU baby might stay in the unit for one night up to six months or longer, depending on the baby’s condition.
• What is my baby’s prognosis? Your baby’s neonatologist can provide you with information based on historical outcomes of babies with the same conditions, complications or illnesses.
• What can I expect in the short and long term? Along with asking about your baby’s prognosis, inquire about what you can expect. Never hesitate to speak with your child’s multidisciplinary team, and they’ll provide you with an assessment based on your child’s condition and current health status.
• What can you tell me about your NICU? CHOC’s NICU is an award-winning unit with a team specialized in caring for the most fragile and tiniest of babies. Our NICU offers state-of-the-art care and life-saving technologies around-the-clock. Our patients come from all over the region for our critical tertiary and quaternary care (Level 3C care) and excellent outcomes. Most babies will stay in the west wing of the unit. Babies born at 27 weeks gestation or earlier or weigh less than 1,000 grams will go to the east wing, which is known as the Small Baby Unit.
• What type of support services do you offer in the NICU and in the hospital for parents? CHOC recognizes the impact of a child’s illness on a family. We use a family-centered approach – a belief that a family’s involvement in the healthcare of a child is important. Our psychologists and social workers provide supportive counseling to assist families in coping with the unpredictability of a potentially life-threatening condition. They also link families with community resources for emotional, as well as financial, support.
• How can I bond with my baby? Finding out your baby will have to spend time in the NICU is never easy. We believe bonding time with your baby provides many health benefits for your child and you. Our NICU experts promote contact with even the most fragile and smallest patients, including extremely low birth weight babies and those on ventilators. Babies have very positive responses to their parents’ closeness—whether it is a gentle caress with a fingertip or skin-to-skin cuddling. We have developed the Parenting in the NICU Guide with advice, information and support most helpful for NICU moms, dads and extended family. The guides are available through your baby’s NICU care team.
• Can I stay somewhere near my baby? CHOC has a partnership with the Ronald McDonald House, a cozy, 20 bedroom place located a few short blocks from the hospital. A social worker can provide you with more information on accommodations and help you with additional resources.
• Can my baby be transferred back to my referring hospital after he is in stable condition? Approximately 50 percent of our NICU patients are transported from hospitals across the region for lifesaving treatment – as close as Los Angeles County and Inland Empire, and as far as Hawaii. Speak to your care team about what will happen once your baby is in stable condition.
• Is there a way for me to obtain insight from my baby’s care team all at once? CHOC strongly encourages parents to be present during “rounds,” a time during the morning hours when the entire care team (nurses, doctors and additional specialty clinicians) check in with patients to review their health status and progress. Each patient case is evaluated and discussed during this time.
• What precautions can I take to avoid infections? CHOC is strict and vigilant with our infection control policies and practices. Parents and visitors are expected to follow these guidelines to protect our NICU patients. Everyone must their wash their hands with alcohol gel. If you have had recent contact or exposure to a communicable disease, or recent contact with an ill person, you must receive approval from the Infection Control Practitioner to come into the unit. Any visitor who is currently ill is not permitted to visit.
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