What problems do infants have that require treatment in the NICU?

Dr. Deborah Raines, MSN
Nursing Specialist

Babies are admitted to the NICU for a variety of conditions. The most common is prematurity. A premature baby is a baby born too early- usually weeks or months before the expected due date. A premature baby is small but more significantly their internal organs are not ready to function in the extrauterine world. Premature babies often need the technologic assistance available in the NICU to help with breathing, keeping warm and gaining weight. The technology available in the NICU attempts to support the infant’s bodily functions while the baby grows and matures.  Another reason for admission to the NICU is a baby with a congenital or genetic condition that is evident at birth. These conditions include genetic syndromes such as trisomy 21 or trisomy 18, congenital heart disease, neural tube disorders including spina bifida, cleft palate, limb malformations and others. A third reason for admitting a baby to the NICU is following a difficult birth. Following a long or intense labor or a difficult delivery, the baby may need support making the transition to extrauterine existence or the baby may have aspirated meconium or sustained an injury such as a fractured clavicle or nerve compression during the birth process. A fourth group is babies who at the time of birth or shortly after birth show signs of illness or a condition that would benefit from the special care available in the NICU. These illnesses and conditions include:  infection or sepsis, tachypnea, hypoglycemia, jaundice, imperforated anus, and others. In general any newborn who needs close observation or special care is a candidate for admission to the NICU.

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