Neonatal care is a type of hospital care for newborn babies.
Read about neonatal care, including the different levels of care and equipment on the unit.
Every year, over 95,000 babies are cared for in neonatal units in the UK because they have either been born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy), or full term (after 37 weeks) but sick.
This means that around 1 in 8 babies born in the UK each year are admitted onto neonatal units.
Below is a table showing the number of babies admitted to a neonatal unit overall in 2015, and how many of these were born at different gestations (point of pregnancy).
The majority of babies who receive neonatal care are born full term. And in 2015, of the 96,556 babies who received neonatal care in England, Scotland and Wales, only 1.2 per cent were born before 25 weeks.
Twins and multiples have a much higher chance of being born prematurely. Only three per cent of babies born alive in England, Wales and Scotland were part of multiple births. However 11.4 per cent of babies who received neonatal care in England, Scotland and Wales were from a multiple pregnancy.
Data for Northern Ireland is collected separately from England, Scotland and Wales.
According to the Northern Irish public health agency, NICORE, 1,790 babies were born needing neonatal care in 2014.
The duration of a baby’s stay in neonatal care varies greatly, and entirely depends on the severity of the condition and the gestation (point of pregnancy) at which they were born.
The average length of a stay in neonatal care in England and Wales is eight days – however this includes figures for both premature and full term babies. We know that most of the babies admitted to neonatal care are born at term and these babies may need only a few days, or even hours, of care.
Read more about the main reasons full term babies receive neonatal support.
However, some of the most premature and the sickest babies can spend months in hospital. For example the average length of stay for a baby born between 28 to 31 weeks is 44 days.
The table below shows the average length of stay for babies born at different gestations in 2015 in England, Scotland and Wales.
It is not uncommon for a baby in neonatal care to be transferred to another hospital. This may be because they need specialist care that the current hospital cannot provide, because they are getting better and can be moved to a hospital closer to home, or because the hospital has more babies than it can safely care for.
Read about transfers including how babies are transferred and about in utero transfers.
According to the National Neonatal Audit Programme, ten per cent of babies in neonatal care experience at least one transfer. Of the 95,222 babies included in their data in 2015, there were 14,308 transfers in total involving 9,523 babies.
Neonatal transport services carry out transfers between neonatal units and are a vital part of care for premature and sick babies. We published a report looking at neonatal transport services across the UK in 2016. Read the report findings.
What is the financial and psychological impact on families of having a premature or sick baby?