The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is an area of the hospital where newborn babies can receive the highest level of care based on their individual health problems. Needless to say, no parent ever wants to see their baby being treated in the NICU but these problems are largely unavoidable.
The NICU unit is a commonly required stay for premature babies often until they can breathe and eat on their own. Premature babies are defined as those who are born before 37 weeks. Two out of ten babies are born prematurely. Full-term newborns can also experience a NICU stay for similar issues. NICU parents are a special brand of strength and hope. November is prematurity awareness month and to highlight the recognition we spoke with Dr. Kevin Kathrotia of Millennium Neonatology.
Dr. Kathrotia is a neonatologist the COO of this private practice group of board-certified neonatologists across the Southeastern United States. Millennium Neo's company objective is to provide compassion, consistency and continuous care to patients and families. Keep reading to hear a neonatologist's advice for NICU families and how to deal with these emotional stays.
BabyGaga (BG): What are common issues that warrant a NICU stay? How long do stays average?
Dr. Kevin Kathrotia (DK): A wide range of babies can end up in the NICU. A lot of parents associate the NICU with premature babies, but late-preterm and full-term babies can end up in the NICU. Problems such as low blood sugar, tachypnea (breathing very fast), and dehydration are common reasons for full-term babies to spend some time in the NICU. Babies can spend as little as a few hours to several months, depending on the problems being tackled.
BG: What does a baby have to do in order to go home?
DK: Generally, our premature babies first need to come off any sort of oxygen and breathing support. After that, they work on feeding safely and effectively in amounts great enough to grow. We also have to make sure babies are not having any apnea (pauses in breathing) or bradycardia (dips in heart rate) for at least 5-7 days before going home. These are common problems related to prematurity.
BG: How important is breastmilk for a NICU baby?
DK: As important as breast milk is for a well baby, breast milk is even more important for a baby in the NICU. Breast milk provides the most easily digested nutrition for our NICU babies and provides crucial immunity for our most vulnerable patients.
BG: What should parents be focusing on during this time? What questions should they be asking?
DK: Parents should expect daily updates from the NICU team. They should not only focus on their baby's care but self-care as well. Well rested parents give the best love to their babies!
BG: As a doctor, what do parents need to know? What advice can you give to make these stays better?
DK: I always tell parents to take things day by day. Especially, if you're a parent of a preemie, there are going to be good days and some not so good days. Being in the NICU can be a roller coaster, taking the setbacks in stride can go a long way.
BG: How would you describe NICU parents who have it down?
DK: Parents that are able to take it day by day are the most successful.
BG: What are the common challenges NICU parents face? What should they prepare for?
DK: Being away from your baby is hard. It is even harder when you have other children at home, jobs to worry about, etc. I always encourage parents to be with their baby in the NICU as much as possible, but not more than that. Sometimes, a simple phone call that their baby is doing just a little better than yesterday works wonders.
Thank you for speaking with us Dr. Kathrotia! We appreciate you taking the time to shed light on life in the NICU.