Neonatal units in hospitals specialise in the care of babies born early, with low weight or who have a medical condition that requires specialised treatment. Neonatal literally means ‘new born’.
One in nine babies born in the UK will spend at least a few days in a neonatal unit which specialises in looking after preterm, small and sick babies. Some babies may have an infection and need antibiotics; others need breathing support or monitoring, or may be suffering from other medical conditions. The length of a baby’s stay may vary from days to weeks or months, depending on their needs.
Going to a neonatal unit and seeing your baby for the first time can be distressing. They may be surrounded by lots of frightening equipment and technology to help them breathe and monitor their progress. Your baby may also be very small and their appearance might not be what you imagined. Many of the babies in the neonatal unit are extremely tiny and immature. The equipment surrounding them is designed to keep them warm, to monitor many of their bodies’ functions, and to support their breathing.
If you are shocked when you walk into the neonatal unit, you’re not alone. Having a premature or sick baby can be traumatic, but all the staff members know you are under stress and are there to help you, as well as your baby.
In this section we will help you understand the different levels of care your baby can receive, the equipment and terminology that will be used by medical staff and any other worries you may have whilst your baby is on the unit.
For more information, you can also download 'Your baby's care', A guide to the National Neonatal Audit Programme 2016 Annual Report.
Introduction to a neonatal unit - video series