About Neonatal Care

As parents, you eagerly look forward to welcoming your baby into the world and bringing your new family member home. Understandably, it can be traumatic if your baby requires extra care.

If you give birth to a premature or sick newborn, they may need to be admitted into a specialised area of the hospital that is equipped to care for them. This specialised medical unit may be called:

  • Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
  • Intensive Care Nursery (ICN).
  • Special Care Nursery (SCN).
  • Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).

These specialised medical units can be very foreign and highly technical environments. At first, parents may find this overwhelming and a little frightening, but understanding the unit and what goes on within it can help reduce your fears and help your baby.

A NICU combines advanced, life-supporting equipment with trained health care professionals. It is an intensive care unit designed to meet the unique needs of premature and sick newborns. Some of the babies are critically ill, while others may need specialised care and observation as they grow.

In Australia, just about all hospitals with maternity services (both public and private) have some type of nursery for the close observation of babies.

Babies are often admitted within the first 24 hours of their birth and may require specialised care if:

  • They are born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation).
  • They have a low birth weight (less than 2,500 grams).
  • Difficulties occur during their delivery.
  • They are full-term, but have a complication such as difficulties with breathing, infections, surgical needs or birth defects.
  • They are one of a set of twins, triplets or other multiples. These babies are often admitted to a NICU as they tend to be born earlier and smaller than single birth babies.

If your baby needs admission into a more specialised unit such as a NICU or SCN, he or she may be able to stay in the hospital where they were born, or they may need to be transferred to a different hospital for ongoing care.

Quiet times

Many NICUs and SCNs have quiet times; this is a specific time throughout the day that is allocated to giving the babies a rest. Usually the lights are dimmed, curtains closed and noise kept to a minimum to allow for as minimal disruption to the babies as possible. Parents are welcome, however other visitors are usually not allowed.


A Newborn Intensive Care Unit requires staff 24 hours a day and the care of your baby is given by nursing staff which change shifts numerous times throughout the day. Each unit has a different pattern, some change 2 times per day and others 3 times per day and at each shift change nursing staff will conduct a handover of your baby’s care.

Doctors Rounds

Doctors’ rounds generally occur twice a day, in the morning and evening. Due to privacy laws, you may be asked to leave the unit during rounds, although each hospital will have a different policy.

Transferring to a different hospital unit

Premature or sick newborns require specialised care and may need to be transferred to a different hospital equipped with a NICU or SCN. The chosen hospital will depend on the baby’s condition and the treatment needed. Transfer may be by helicopter, plane or ground ambulance. Once a baby is medically stable and no longer requires intensive care, they may be transferred to a hospital closer to home.

Medical records and notes

When a baby is hospitalised, all of their medical information, including their day-to-day care and activities, are entered into their medical records. These important documents will contain up-to-date, accurate and comprehensive notes so your baby’s medical team can provide appropriate, individualised care.

You have the right to ask if you can see your child’s personal information, including medical records held by your health service, though in some special circumstances this request may be denied – for example, if doing so would put you and/or your child or another person at risk of harm.

To obtain a copy of your baby’s medical records, contact the medical records department of the hospital where your baby was treated. You may be required to pay a fee and wait for the records to be ready; this varies between states.

If your baby was treated in more than one hospital, you will have to request records at each facility where your baby was treated.

Medical records can be confusing for people who aren’t medically trained. It’s important to keep this in mind and ask your baby’s medical team if you have any questions.

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