Newborn Intensive Care Unit

Just as there are intensive care units for adults and children, there are also special units available for newborn infants. These newborn intensive care units (NICU) are especially equipped and staffed to care for infants that cannot be cared for in a term baby nursery. There are four such units in the Emory Healthcare system-at Grady Memorial Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston in Atlanta, Georgia and Emory John’s Creek Hospital in Alpharetta, Georgia.  

Why does a baby need the NICU?

 While some babies are critically ill, many babies just need special care that cannot be provided in a regular term nursery. Some babies have breathing problems after birth and need oxygen or machines to help them breathe, some need intravenous fluids (IV's) or special feedings, some need help in keeping their body temperature stable, and some just need special monitoring or medicines. The doctors and nurses caring for your baby will explain why your baby is in the NICU and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

 How do I know what to ask?

 Parents often don't know what questions to ask, are afraid their questions are "stupid", or think of more questions after they leave the NICU. Any question you have is important and should be asked! It may help to write your questions down when you think of them and then bring your list in when you come to visit. But please understand that sometimes you may have a question that we cannot answer or must wait to answer.

 Many times the staff caring for your baby may use medical words that you don't understand or that seem to be different than what you were told earlier. This is often because the staff uses the medical terms so routinely that they may not be aware that you are not familiar with the terms or that you were given another name. If there is anything you don't understand or that seems confusing, please ask the doctor or nurse to explain it again.

Will I be able to see the baby?

 YES! Parents are encouraged to visit as often as possible, but there are times that you may be asked to wait or to come back later, such as at change of nursing shifts or if the staff is busy with your baby or another baby. To keep things as quiet and restful as possible for all the babies, the number of visitors at the bedside may be limited. The visiting policy in each unit should be explained to you and may vary.

 If You have a cold, fever, infectious illness or think you may be coming down with something, please ask to speak with the nurse or doctor before you come in to visit. Babies can easily catch infections and they don't need more problems. If you are unsure if you have an infection or possible infection you can call the unit and ask to speak with the nurse. Be sure to report if you have been exposed to chickenpox, or have shingles or cold sores.

 Who will be taking care of my baby?

 The NICU has a team of specially trained people who will provide care for your baby as needed; not every baby will need all the team members. Also, the people may change as shifts and rotations change.

Neonatologist: a pediatric specialist with advanced training in the intensive care of premature and sick infants. This doctor is often called the "attending" doctor and will supervise the care of your baby. While the doctor may change on a rotating basis, one of our Emory attending neonatologists is always on‑call twenty‑four hours a day, seven days a week.

Fellow: a pediatric doctor who is getting advanced training to become a neonatologist.

Resident: a doctor who has finished medical school and is getting advanced training in pediatrics.

Specialists: if needed, other doctors with specialized training may be called in to consult on your baby's care.


Neonatal nurse practitioner: an advanced practice licensed nurse with master's degree education and training in the intensive care of newborns who works under the direction of the neonatologist.

NICU nurse: a licensed nurse is assigned each shift to care for your baby (a shift may vary from 8-12 hours). This nurse may have other babies assigned, but is the primary person to answer questions or to direct your questions to any other team member. When possible, nurses are assigned to babies they have taken care of before.

Respiratory Therapists (RT): a specially trained technician in handling ventilators and equipment used to treat breathing problems. RT's also give breathing treatments, place breathing tubes, suction and perform many other tasks to help care for babies with breathing problems.

Social Services:  licensed workers to assist you with emotional support, counseling, parent groups, getting financial help, and to help you with other non-medical needs. They also help arrange for home health needs, such as home oxygen and apnea monitors if needed.

Physical and Other Therapists:  special therapists that work with muscle tone, movement problems, and feeding problems. Therapists may treat a baby in the unit and/or sometimes after discharge.

Pharmacist:  a person with special training and knowledge of drugs for babies, who helps the doctors and nurses with your baby's medicines.

Unit clerk:  a person who answers the phones, orders supplies, puts the doctor's orders into the computer, greets visitors, and helps the doctors and nurses with clerical work.

X-ray technicians: licensed specialist to take X-rays as ordered by the doctors. All films taken by the technician are reviewed by a radiologist, who is a doctor with special training in reading X-rays.

Chaplains: There is always a chaplain on-call to help with counseling and religious questions.

Others: dieticians-to help with feeding questions, laboratory technicians-to draw blood tests and run those tests, housekeeping, maintenance workers all provide important services to help care your baby.

If you have any questions about who someone is and what their role is, feel free to ask.