The many different faces you may see at your baby’s bedside can be confusing, as can be the different roles each one plays. NICU care involves a large team of professionals, each with a specific function. Don’t EVER be afraid to ask someone to introduce themselves (again) and explain his/her role on the care team! Here is a brief description of the typical members of the care team:
This is the medical doctor who directs all of your baby’s care and is ultimately responsible for all decisions. (Some neonatologists are Doctors of Osteopathy – DO.) A neonatologist graduates from medical school, becomes a pediatrician after 3 years of training, and then spends another 3 years studying ONLY the care of sick and preterm babies. S/he should be board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. You can check this by searching for him/her on www.abp.org. There is always a neonatologist supervising the care of your baby. You may have several neonatologist partners from one practice taking care of your baby during his/her NICU stay.
Neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP)
This is an advanced practice nurse who has taken advanced degrees and training specifically in the care of sick and preterm babies. The NNP works under the supervision of a neonatologist. Some NNPs have received PhD degrees and are called “doctor” but they do not have the same training as the neonatologist. NNPs and neonatologists work closely together to develop and execute treatment plans for your baby.
Bedside nurse (RN)
The bedside nurse is your best source of moment-to-moment information about your baby’s current condition. S/he is a registered nurse who has chosen to focus on neonatal care and has learned by experience. RNs execute the orders of the MD/NNP, provide valuable insight to the medical team about the baby’s current condition, and may suggest evaluation or treatment plans. You will work closely with the RN as you participate in and learn how to care for your baby.
Respiratory therapist (RT)
The RT manages any breathing machines or devices your baby may require, as well as administers breathing treatments and provides other skilled services, under the direction of the MD/NNP. RTs undergo specialized schooling leading to credentialling, and gain NICU expertise by experience. They are essential members of the care team, as most NICU babies require respiratory support at some point during their stays.
Various individuals may appear from time to time to perform certain tests, such as ultrasounds, x-rays, or blood draws. credentialled in their fields. These people are trained and credentialled in their fields.
Having a baby in the NICU is stressful, disruptive to the entire family structure, and expensive. The social worker’s role is to provide emotional, financial, and practical support throughout your hospital stay and to prepare you for discharge and beyond.
Occupational, physical, and speech therapists all work with your baby to optimize normal development as s/he grows and to prevent/correct problems that may be appearing. They are trained and credentialed in their field and gain NICU expertise by experience.
Good nutrition is the key to your baby’s future and many NICUs employ nutritionists who are specially trained in neonatal nutrition. The nutritionist carefully monitors your baby’s intake of calories, fat, protein, sugar, vitamins and minerals, and makes recommendations to the medical team.
Breastmilk is the perfect food for human babies and every NICU encourages and supports its birthmothers to provide breastmilk for their babies if they wish to do so. A lactation consultant is specially trained and certified in the art of breastfeeding and works with birthmothers to help them successfully produce breastmilk.
Neonatologists are trained to care for the entire baby. Frequently, subspecialist physicians are asked to provide certain services or expertise for a localized condition. Surgeons, cardiologists (heart), neurologists (brain), nephrologists (kidney), gastroenterologists (stomach/intestines) are the most common subspecialists found in the NICU. The neonatologist remains your baby’s primary doctor, even when subspecialists are involved.
This person answers the telephone and screens visitors to the NICU. To ensure the safety, security and privacy of you and your baby, every NICU has security measures in place to prevent unauthorized entry or exit from the unit. S/he will explain handwashing, visitation, and other NICU rules, and help to solve whatever problem you may encounter.
Every person in the NICU is committed to providing the best care possible for you and your baby. Do not hesitate to ask ANYONE for help if you need it.