Care on the unit

Dad skin to skin

This page talks about how babies are cared for on units and daily routines.

The nurses got us involved in his cares such as his feeds. We got to know and trust a lot of the nurses and consultants to whom we are forever grateful for giving Noah the best chance.

Natalie, mum to Noah

When your baby arrives on the neonatal unit, one of the nurses should show you around and explain the routines. If you know you have a higher likelihood of spending time on a neonatal unit, you may be offered these explanations before giving birth.

Some units have virtual tours which you can watch before arriving and some offer in-person tours. Talk to your antenatal care team or midwife to see if this is available for the hospital you are booked in at.

Each unit works differently, but there are standard policies that apply in most hospitals.

The staff should also keep you up to date on your baby’s care during the first few hours. They will know that you are likely to feel worried and anxious. They will do what they can to put you at ease.

Staff schedules

Staff on the unit work in shifts, coming on duty and going home at set times. Handover allows the day and night staff to share information about your baby’s care. Ward rounds happen once or twice a day. This is where you and your neonatal care team plan your baby’s care.

Being there when your baby is being discussed and their care is being planned is helpful to being a partner in your baby’s neonatal care.

Feel free to ask the doctors questions or share any thoughts you have about your baby’s condition or treatment. Rounds are an important time for you to stay informed and be fully involved in decisions about your baby’s care.

You can also use this time to tell the staff how your baby has been doing that day.

Updates on your baby

In addition to being part of ward rounds, the nurses helping you to care for your baby can update you on their progress when you are on the unit. If you are not on the unit, this can be done over the phone or through a video call.

You can also ask to see a doctor for an update on the condition of your baby, or to talk about their treatment. If you want to see your baby’s doctor just ask one of your nurses. If you aren’t on the unit, you can always call the unit any time, day or night.

The nurse or ward clerk should be able to provide you with the unit’s direct telephone number. Some units use direct video services, such as ‘vCreate’. These allow staff to securely record videos of your baby and send you regular updates.

Not all units use this service but you can ask the staff on your unit if this is available. Information about your baby’s daily nursing care will be recorded in their bedside notes or recorded electronically. If these are stored electronically, you can ask your care team to explain them to you.

You should also be able to leave notes about your baby for staff to read. Your baby’s formal medical record, which give details of their condition and treatment, are kept securely.

These medical records are protected by laws to make sure they remain confidential, so you may need to make a formal request to see them.

Parents should try to get involved in their baby’s care, such as feeding and changing. Although it is very scary, it does help with the bonding process. I know this first hand.

Tom, dad to Gracie

Protecting against infections

Babies in the neonatal unit are vulnerable to infections so there are hygiene policies to protect them. The nurses on your unit can explain the details to you.

Everyone coming into the neonatal unit must wash their hands and forearms thoroughly and, after drying, use the sanitising hand gel provided.

The unit might also have what’s called a ‘bare arm policy’. This means no clothing or loose jewellery can be worn below the elbow.

Family members will need to stay away if they have COVID-19, a cold, the flu or a tummy bug, or if they have whooping cough, measles, chickenpox or other contagious infections. This will apply to siblings and other family members, and may also apply to you if you are seriously ill.

This can be hard. If you are not able to be with your baby because you are sick, then the unit will arrange other ways for you to stay up to date with their condition.

Your baby might be tested for infections when they are first admitted into the unit. This is done by lightly brushing your baby’s skin with a cotton swab. This is to help the staff know what they might need to treat.

Read more about washing your hands in our information on common infectious illnesses.

Being with your baby

Parents are not considered visitors, as you should be able to be with your baby as much as you would like. It will be very important to the staff that you are not separated from your baby unnecessarily.

For security reasons, the unit will only be accessible to staff with relevant passes. Parents and visitors will usually be able to ring a doorbell to gain access. Each unit has its own visiting policy.

The unit may have set visiting hours for other family members, and might ask you to limit the number of people. This allows the babies to get enough rest and lowers the risk of infections.

Sometimes there is not much space and the staff need room to work safely. Most units encourage brothers and sisters, grandparents and other family members to visit. This will depend on current restrictions which can change due to infection control measures.

If you can, it may be nice to bring your children to see their new sibling in hospital. Even when they can’t visit, your children can stay in touch with your new baby. You might like to give your child a picture of their sibling to keep, or organise a video call with the staff or when you are there.

Good to know

If you have other children, you can encourage them to make cards or drawings to hang near your baby’s cot. This can help them to bond with their new sibling.


It can be a difficult time when your baby is in hospital and privacy for you and your family is important.

Most units will:

  • Make sure you have private space for feeding, expressing, cuddling and medical procedures. Screens are ideal if your baby does not need to be monitored all the time.
  • Ask other parents and visitors to respect the space around babies’ cots and to not disturb them while they rest. They will also be asked to not read care or medical notes of other babies on the unit.
  • Provide a private place for discussions about your baby’s condition and treatment.

In some units, parents might be asked to leave the room if staff are having confidential conversations about other babies. To do this, units are encouraged to have confidential conversations away from the cot or incubator, so that as many parents as possible can stay with their babies.

There should also be a sitting room nearby for parents to relax and a kitchen for making tea and snacks. Some units offer accommodation to stay overnight near your baby.

Peace and quiet

For premature or sick babies, it is very important to make sure their environment helps them to respond to treatment, grow, and develop.

Neonatal units help keep the environment calm for babies, by:

  • Turning lights low and shielding the babies from bright lights as much as possible
  • Protecting them from loud or continuous noises from equipment
  • Keeping conversations and phones at a quiet level
  • Making sure babies have lots of quiet time
  • Asking everyone to put mobile phones on silent

Being quiet in the unit does not mean that you can’t talk softly to your baby. In fact, doing this can really help you and your baby to connect and to feel reassured.

This information is due for review in Novmber 2025