Having a new baby is exciting, but planning where you will deliver can seem overwhelming. While many hospitals boast fancy delivery suites, having a knowledgeable neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be a life-saver for your baby. We asked Dr. Cherie Foster, a neonatologist and perinatologist and the medical director of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit the question new moms are wondering: why do we need a NICU anyway?
Q: When a new mom is choosing the hospital where she should give birth, what are some of the things she should look for?
I think she should look for hospitals that have a lot of experience taking care of pregnant women and babies. I think it is important to deliver at a hospital with excellent baby and neonatal care. There’s almost 4 million babies born in the US each year. 10-15% of these babies are born premature and families are often not able to know ahead of time that they might have a premature baby. So often that is a last minute bit of information. So if you have long ago decided and chosen a hospital that has an established NICU, it will give you peace of mind if they find themselves in that situation.
Additionally, even though prematurity is what people think of with babies coming to the NICU, there are full term and late term babies that may briefly be taken care of by baby specialists in the NICU or on the floor.
Q: Are there any advantages for babies who are able to get to the NICU right away versus having to take an ambulance?
Definitely. If you come to a NICU right away, the babies tend to be the most fragile that have serious medical issues. An ambulance ride can be very stressful. You want to have access to treatment immediately after birth because that’s what many babies need.
Q: Are there any advantages for the parents and family as well as the child when a child is able to go to the NICU in the same hospital?
If your baby does need to be in the NICU and you have delivered at a hospital that has a NICU, it enables you to still be close to your baby while you finish your postpartum care. It allows for parental bonding with the child and helps get them conditioned to breast feeding and you don’t have to be separated so far from your baby. Often your baby is just several feet or one floor away and you can spend as much time bonding with your baby as possible.
Q: Is there a difference between a birthing center and hospital when it comes to after birth care?
Birthing centers don’t typically have a NICU. We have seen babies come from birthing centers that can be very sick and have poor outcomes when they needed emergency medical care at the time of birth and that’s not been able to be started right away. That can be a potential problem.
Nobody ever wants to think that a baby will be sick after delivery, whether premature or full term. I always liken it to saying we don’t get into a car every day to drive thinking we will have a wreck but we put on our seat belts to be safe. We brush our teeth every day to prevent gum disease. So part of that planning even for unusual situations, and having good care for the mom and baby and family unit means delivering someplace where there are physicians and specialists and nurses and equipment to handle any situation.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the NICU at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital?
In 2013 we opened a new 64 bed state of the art NICU and we have all private rooms. That allows for a calmer environment for the babies while they are ill and while they are healing. We have sleeping arrangements in each private room and private bathrooms and showers for the parents so that they can be with their baby 24 hours a day. It promotes breast feeding, parental bonding, and it alleviates parental anxiety. We try to make this difficult and tough situation for any family as less stressful as possible given the situation.
The suites are beautifully designed to accommodate overnight guests – complete with a full bathroom – while also providing ample space to accommodate the latest high-tech and life-sustaining equipment. Each NICU room provides a calm, subdued, womb-like setting designed to help premature babies grow and develop faster. Private suites improve patient safety and babies thrive in spaces where the environment can be adjusted to their unique developmental needs. The entire family benefits by having the opportunity to spend time together bonding.
Located inside St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s 64-suite Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a place where sick and premature infants can receive special care. The NICU is licensed for two levels of intensity: Level III* with 49 infant beds and Level II with 15 infant beds. We meet the American Academy of Pediatrics definition for Level IV, but Level III is highest recognized by state of Florida.
Because of our large group, there is a neonatologist here 24 hours a day which is not always true for all NICUs in the US. So there is always a board certified Neonatologist in the NICU 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year so that if unusual situations arise there is a specialist to respond immediately to the baby’s needs.
In 2014, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s NICU team cared for 1,116 infants who were admitted anywhere from a few days to six months, depending on their medical condition.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
I think that St. Joseph’s is a very unique environment. We have extraordinary outcomes in pre-term and term babies. I feel very lucky that we take care of over 1000 babies in the NICU per year and there is real expertise in the NICU and the hospital. I am so glad that this resource is here in Tampa. I have worked with an extraordinary team of physicians, nurses, support staff– it is truly an extraordinary place and a real asset Tampa Bay.