Not all NICUs are created equal

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Most babies are born healthy. However, when babies have a condition diagnosed in utero, or born early, or experience complications during or immediately after delivery, they may need the specialized care offered in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In fact, the March of Dimes estimates about one in 10 babies born in the U.S. require resuscitation and possibly neonatal care.

For peace of mind, it’s important to explore your local NICU options and create a B.U.M.P., or baby urgent medical plan. The quality of care that babies and their families receive   varies from hospital to hospital. Here are some questions that could help you decide about neonatal care in your area.

Volume and outcomes
How many babies are treated annually? What are the hospital’s results on baby outcomes? 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.

Round-the-clock care
Is there a neonatologist, nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse and respiratory therapist on-site 24/7? Are they dedicated only to the NICU? The top-level NICUs have dedicated, on-site neonatologists, pediatric surgeons and anesthesiologists available around-the-clock who are experienced in looking after critically ill and premature infants.

Environmental controls
Are efforts made to minimize the effects of sound and light on babies in the NICU? Exemplary hospitals ensure minimal activity at bedside, soft lights and low noise levels, which reduce stimulation and allow babies to rest.

Nutritional care
Does the unit encourage and support breastfeeding and offer human donor milk to preterm infants? Are neonatal nutritional specialists on staff? Texas Children’s has a dedicated nutrition team that rounds with neonatologists and recommend the best nutrition for the babies. Texas Children’s has a donor milk bank so preterm babies who do not have mother’s milk can still get human milk. Babies’ growth is monitored every day.

Respiratory care
Is the highest level of respiratory support available? Premature and ill infants may require advanced respiratory support. We have state of the art breathing machines (ventilators), nitric oxide gas that helps some babies with respiratory failure and a dedicated team of respiratory therapists. We have machines inside our unit that can check blood gases 24/7 so the breathing support for babies are the best at all times.

Parental support
Are parents and families encouraged to be at the bedside 24/7? What support services are available to parents and caregivers? Are overnight facilities for parents who want to stay on-site available? Are parents encouraged to touch and hold their babies? At Texas Children’s parents are allowed to visit anytime and allowed to stay with the baby at all times. The single rooms for babies are equipped with couches and screens so parents can stay with their babies at all times. We pride ourselves on family centered care for our babies.

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. Organizations like Texas Children’s provide access to these kinds of experts.

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? At Texas Children’s we have rooming in rooms that can facilitate discharge of complex patients so parents can be confident of all the care before going home. The family pediatrician will be updated of the baby’s progress from time to time and before discharge. If the family pediatrician is with Texas Children’s Pediatric, the pediatrician will have access to hospital notes and summaries which will greatly improve continued care for your babies.

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 Hospital, 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.

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? Newborn Center staff at Texas Children’s provide evidence-based care developed from research that has shown what is best for newborn babies who need specialized care.

To learn more about our NICU, please visit here.

Posted in 101, Neonatology, NICU, Pavilion for Women

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