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How to Choose a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

A preterm birth can happen when you least expect it. In fact, one of nine expectant mothers delivers her baby before full term (37 or more weeks). As a result, 3 to 4 percent of babies born each year are admitted to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

A preterm birth can happen when you least expect it. In fact, one of nine expectant mothers delivers her baby before full term (37 or more weeks). As a result, 3 to 4 percent of babies born each year are admitted to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

Pediatrician Dr. Ron Miller, medical director of MeritCare Children's Hospital, strongly recommends that expectant parents do their homework. "If you're concerned about your baby's health, you'll want to deliver where there's a board-certified neonatologist," he says. "If you know ahead of time that your baby is going to have trouble, if you're having multiple babies or if you know you'll deliver early, take the time to visit the NICU and talk with the manager. If you're from far away, call and get the information you need."

So what kinds of questions should you ask? Dr. Miller suggests several:

Does your hospital have neonatologists?
Many hospitals have pediatricians, but they do not always have neonatologists. Neonatologists specialize in the care of premature and sick newborn infants.

Does your NICU have full-time, 24/7 coverage by board-certified neonatologists?
You'll want a NICU that has coverage by board-certified neonatologists around the clock.

What is the size of your NICU?
You'll want a size that can accommodate many babies.

What are some examples of advanced technology in your NICU?
You'll want to listen for things such as high-frequency ventilators, oscillators and the use of nitric oxide.

Do you have pediatric specialists available for consultation?
It is important that neonatologists consult with specialists in pediatric cardiology, pediatric gastroenterology, pediatric hematology, pediatric neurology and pediatric pulmonology to name just a few.

Do you have neonatal intensive care nurses who are specifically-trained in the area of neonatal intensive care? Are they Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)-certified?
For the care of your baby, it is important that the NICU is staffed by a team of specifically-trained neonatal intensive care nurses who are NRP-certified.

Does your flight team include neonatal nurses?
A Neonatal Transport Team can provide high level care en route to the hospital.

Does your NICU participate in a quality-evaluation program? If so, what is your ranking?
Many NICUs participate in the Vermont-Oxford Quality Project that evaluates outcomes of NICUs, then rates them in comparison to other NICUs across the country.

Does your NICU have specially-trained neonatal respiratory care therapists? Neonatal occupational therapists? Neonatal physical therapists? A pediatric nutritionist?
It is important that for a NICU to offer these specially-trained caregivers to ensure excellent care for every sick baby.

Does your NICU have a neonatal growth and development clinic where babies who received care in the NICU can go for periodic follow-up?
As your child grows, you will want a neonatal growth and development clinic to make sure your child receives the best care possible.

Learn more at children.meritcare.com.