When you are expecting a baby, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the choices and deciscions you have to make. One of these decisions parents may come face-to-face with is where they want their baby to be treated if the unexpected happens and they are born prematurely or encounter any complications. Because major differences exist in the quality of care babies and their families receive from hospital to hospital, it’s important to research your options before your baby’s birth. When considering a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), you will want to ask about the following:
- Volumes/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.
- Round-the-clock care: The highest-level NICUs provide access to a variety of subspecialists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ask if dedicated on-site neonatal surgeons, heart surgeons and pediatric anesthesiologists are available to offer round-the-clock care. Are a neonatologist, nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse and respiratory therapist available to care for your baby whenever the need may arise?
- Environmental Controls: Exemplary hospitals ensure minimal activity at bedside, soft lights and low noise levels, which reduce stimulation and allow babies to rest. Ask what, if any, efforts are made to minimize the effects of sound and light on NICU babies.
- Nutrional Care: The benefits of breastfeeding may be even more important if your baby is premature or needs special care. Does the center encourage and support breastfeeding and offer human donor milk program to preterm infants? Are neonatal nutritionists on staff? At Texas Children’s Newborn Center, lactation consultants guide mothers through the unique challenges of breastfeeding a hospitalized infant, and our Mothers’ Milk Bank provides state-of-the-art storage and preparation of pumped breast milk to feed infants in our NICUs.
- Respiratory Care: The highest level of respiratory support is only available in the highest level NICUs. Because premature and ill infants may require advanced respiratory support, it’s important to research a facilit’s particular capabilities and limitations.