Routines on the unit

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When your baby arrives on the neonatal unit, one of the nurses should show you around and explain the routines.

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. The handover between shifts, where different staff take over, can be a busy time on the unit.

The medical and nursing team’s rounds (called ward rounds) usually happen once or twice a day. During a morning round, the doctors and nurses plan your baby’s care.

An evening meeting called a handover allows the day and night staff to share information and agree overnight plans. Nursing staff will also have handover, where they share information with different staff starting their shifts.

You should be able to stay when your baby is being talked about. 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

The nurse helping you to care for your baby can update you on their progress when you are on the unit, or you can phone for an update.

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 the nurse.

If you can’t be on the unit for any reason, 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.

Information about your baby’s daily nursing care will be recorded in their bedside notes or recorded electronically. You are allowed to read these at all times.

You should also be able to leave notes about your baby for staff to read. Your baby’s full medical record, which give details of their condition and treatment, are kept securely. These medical notes are protected by laws to make sure they remain confidential, so you may need to make a formal request to see them.

For me, the most important part was to embrace the routine. I knew when ward rounds were, and I tried to relax before. I also took a breather later on. I felt I was making a difference.

Anna, mum to Jemima

Protecting against infections

Babies in the neonatal unit are vulnerable to infections so there are strict 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 may need to stay away if they have a cold, the flu or a tummy bug, or if they have whooping cough, measles, chicken pox 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 swabbed for infections when they are first admitted into the unit. 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.


Parents are not considered visitors, as you should be able to be with your baby 24 hours a day. In some units, parents might be asked to leave the room if staff are having confidential conversations about other babies.

It will be very important to the staff that you are not separated from your baby unnecessarily and they will do everything they can so that you can stay with them as much as possible. 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.

For security, the unit will only be accessible to staff with relevant passes. Parents and visitors will usually be let in by the staff.

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.

Some hospitals allow brothers and sisters to visit. If you can, it may be helpful to bring your older children to see the baby in hospital.

Even when they can’t visit, your children can stay in touch with the new baby. You might like to give your child a picture of the baby to keep. You can also encourage your child to give your baby a present or make cards and paintings to hang near your baby’s cot.


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 visitors not to approach other babies’ cots when their parents are not there, and not to read their notes.
  • Provide a private place for discussions about your baby’s condition and treatment.

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 May 2021