Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at CHKD is the region's largest and most sophisticated critical care facility for newborns. Approximately 700 babies are admitted to CHKD's NICU every year from hospitals throughout southeastern Virginia, the Eastern Shore of Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Most are born prematurely - some as early as 23 weeks gestation. Others suffer from severe heart and lung conditions or birth defects that require early surgical intervention.

We know from experience that parents often feel anxious when their babies are admitted to the NICU, and we do all that we can to help them during this stressful time.

For instance, we share lots of information with families to help them understand their child's condition, possible treatments and how they can best help. Most of that information comes in one-on-one discussions with nurses and doctors and in a special parent information book we give each family when a baby is admitted. The section that follows is a brief overview of our unit.

Who will care for my child?

The NICU staff is comprised of a team of dedicated professionals, who are listed below. All of these NICU personnel are important but none are as important to your baby as you are. We encourage every parent to be involved in their baby's care.

  • Neonatologists - Pediatricians (doctors) who are specially trained and certified in the care of premature and sick newborn infants.
  • Resident Physicians - Doctors who are in advanced training in the care of infants and children.
  • Consulting Physicians - Doctors who have specialized training in other areas of pediatric medicine, such as cardiology, infectious diseases and pediatric surgery.
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioners - Registered nurses with specialized training who work with the neonatologists to manage your baby's care.
  • Patient Care Coordinator - The registered nurse who is specially trained in the care of premature and critically ill newborn infants and will be caring for your baby 24 hours a day. The patient care coordinator will give you daily information on your baby's progress and help explain procedures.
  • Primary Nurses - Registered nurses who work with the medical team to plan your baby's care.
  • Respiratory Therapists - Trained professionals in the operation of respirators and other types of oxygen therapy.
  • Social Worker - An individual with a master's degree in social work and specific training in helping parents with the emotional and financial stresses associated with a sick newborn.
  • Speech or Occupational Therapists - Pediatric trained professionals who assist in helping your child develop feeding skills.
  • Case Manager/Discharge Planner - Registered nurse specially trained to monitor your baby's progress while in the NICU and to assist with insurance needs or questions that arise. She will coordinate medical follow-up and home care needs at the time of discharge.
  • Lactation Consultants - Registered nurses with advanced training to help mothers meet their goals for breastfeeding or provide comfort measures to those mothers who will not be pumping.
  • Others - Many people are here to assist you, including our chaplains, nutritionists, lab technicians, X-ray technicians, unit secretary, receptionist, housekeepers, educator, clinical nurse specialist, clinician I, and support associate.

Where can I put my belongings while I visit?

Pay phones and purse lockers are available in the parent waiting room. We also offer families the following comforts:

  • A meditation room is available across from the family waiting room. There also is a hospital chapel on the first floor.
  • An ice machine, refrigerator and sink, located directly across from the family rooms.
  • Drink and snack machines, located behind the elevators.
  • Parent sleep rooms for emergencies.
  • Hospital-grade breast pumps are available for use while visiting and private rooms for pumping.

What are your visiting hours?

At CHKD, we understand how hard it is for parents and children to be separated. So we make sure that parents feel welcome at all times. Read our "Visiting a Patient" section for more information.

How can I help my baby?

Rocking, touching, holding, singing and playing with your baby are so important for your child's normal development. Please talk with your nurse to decide when and for how long to do these activities with your baby while here in the NICU.

  • gentle massage - touching and gently massaging your baby's legs, arms, head and body will help you get to know him. You will also be able to help comfort your baby who learns that touching feels good.
  • talking softly - your voice may be very soothing to your baby and may help establish the infant-parent bond.
  • pictures - babies can focus on things that are approximately 7 to 9 inches from their eyes. Therefore, when touching or talking to your baby put your face just a few inches from his. You may also wish to bring in pictures of your family to be placed in the incubator.
  • tape recordings - once your infant is at least 30 weeks gestation, music can be soothing and will break the monotony of the mechanical sounds heard in the NICU. Recordings of your voices can help your baby learn to identify his parents' voices and is an excellent way to involve siblings, grandparents and other important individuals. You may bring a small tape recorder to place in the incubator with your baby. Many babies enjoy being talked to or sung to while being touched. Thus, even before they understand the words, they will learn the association with your voice and gentle loving touch.
  • holding your baby - We encourage you to hold your baby when possible. However, babies that weigh less than 1,500 grams may have a difficult time maintaining their temperature. Please ask your baby's nurse if you have any questions.
  • Kangaroo Care - this is skin-to-skin contact between you and your child that lets you provide soothing warmth, security and comfort. Ask your nurse when your baby will be ready for this.
  • toys - only small, unbreakable, washable toys are allowed. No sharp edges should be present. Mobiles provide good visual stimulation. Please check with your baby's nurse for what would be appropriate. Two toys per baby is a good guide. Please, no fuzzy/furry toys. And no balloons of any type.
  • clothes - babies can almost always wear caps and booties. Gowns, dresses, shirts and pajamas may be worn by babies in cribs and sometimes by infants in isolettes. Remember that at times your baby may not be able to wear clothing. You can bring in colorful sheets and blankets to help provide a more home-like atmosphere for your baby.
  • feeding your baby - nutrition is essential for your baby's growth and development. In the beginning, we may need to feed by IV or by using a tube into the stomach (called gavage feeding). As your baby gets bigger and older he or she will be able to nurse from your breast or bottle-feed. However, during the time when tube feedings are being given, you can learn to help with this type of feeding. This will allow you to participate in your baby's care and strengthen that very important parent-infant bond. Premature babies generally require a higher concentration of calories, minerals and vitamins than is provided in breast milk or standard formula. Therefore, a fortifier is added to breast milk or a special formula is used. Human milk contains many factors that help protect babies from certain illnesses and is usually the best type of milk for preemies and sick babies. Mothers can choose to pump breast milk for their babies during the hospital stay, even if they do not plan to breastfeed. If you want more information on this, please page the NICU lactation consultant at (757) 475-0550. It is important to contact her as soon as possible after delivery because pumping should be started early. Following certain guidelines for pumping and storing milk helps to ensure that there will be plenty of milk when your baby needs it.

Can I check on my child when I can't be at the hospital?

When you are away from the hospital, you are welcome to call the unit to find out how your child is doing. Please identify two people who may call us for information (usually parents and/or grandparents, etc.) We'll refer other relatives and friends to you for medical information, so please let them know. We may ask you to identify yourself in a special way (for instance, by giving us your Social Security number) to make sure we are giving information to the proper person. The NICU number is (757) 668-7449. We also have provisions for families who live outside the local calling range to make ONE collect call per day to the unit. Please contact your child's nurse for details.