What is a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

NICU is an acronym for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. In some setting the NICU is also called the Special Care Nursery or Intensive Care Nursery.  It is a specialized nursery for the care of ill or premature newborn infants. A neonatologist is usually the director and the NICU is staffed by nurses, physicians, pharmacists, respiratory therapists and others with special knowledge of the unique needs of premature and sick infants. Many of the babies in the NICU are being cared for with specialized technologies to maintain their breathing, nutritional status, and body temperature while they grow and recover. In addition, special attention is given to the infant’s developmental needs and to parent-infant attachment with the baby is a patient in the NICU.

Dr. Diana K. Blythe, MD

A NICU, or neonatal intensive care unit, is for newborns who are born prematurely, very sick, or at high risk for becoming sick. For these babies special care may be needed for monitoring, breathing, circulation, infection, or other things. Some babies who are born extremely prematurely may stay for months. Other babies who were there for monitoring may stay a few days or even just overnight.

Whichever your reason for having a baby in the NICU, be sure to ask a lot of questions and do not feel bad about repeating your questions until you understand. The nurses and doctors who work in the NICU realize that you are scared. No one is going to be bothered by answering your questions.

Continue Learning about Critical Care

Are there support services in the ICU for family members?
Dr. Kevin J. Soden, MDDr. Kevin J. Soden, MD
When a person is in the ICU, it means they are seriously ill or have recently had surgery. Healthcar...
More Answers
Why might my baby be given a sedative while in the NICU?
Intermountain Registered DietitiansIntermountain Registered Dietitians
If your baby is on a ventilator in the NICU or has a chest tube in place, he may require a sedative—...
More Answers
What blood tests are taken in the emergency room (ER)?
Dr. Kathleen Handal, MDDr. Kathleen Handal, MD
A visit to the ER wouldn’t be complete without some type of test. The basic blood tests you might en...
More Answers
How Has the Medical Community Reduced Errors in Patient Care?
How Has the Medical Community Reduced Errors in Patient Care?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.