Statistics about neonatal care

Nurse caring for baby in incubator

Find out statistics about neonatal care, including how many babies are admitted to neonatal care each year and how long a baby typically spends on a neonatal unit.

What is neonatal care?

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.

How many babies receive neonatal care?

Every year, over 90,000 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 7 babies born in the UK are admitted to a neonatal unit each year.

How many babies are admitted to neonatal care each year in England, Scotland and Wales?

Below is a table showing the number of babies admitted to a neonatal unit overall in 2016, 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 2016, of the 100,762 babies who received neonatal care in England, Scotland and Wales, only 1.2 per cent were born before 25 weeks.

Neonatal admissions by gestational age
Neonatal admissions by gestational age pie chart

Twins and multiples have a much higher chance of being born prematurely. Only 1.7 per cent of babies born alive in England, Scotland and Wales are part of multiple births. However 11.2 per cent of babies who received neonatal care in England, Scotland and Wales were from a multiple pregnancy.

How many babies are admitted to neonatal care each year in Northern Ireland?

Data for Northern Ireland is collected separately from England, Scotland and Wales.

According to the Northern Irish public health agency, NICORE, approximately 2000 newborn babies will require admission to a neonatal unit every year.

Northern Ireland Neonatal Admissions

How long will a baby spend on a neonatal unit?

The duration of a baby’s stay in neonatal care varies greatly, and entirely depends on the severity of the condition and the gestation (completed weeks of pregnancy) at which they were born.

The average length of a stay in neonatal care in England and Wales is seven 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 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 2016 in England, Scotland and Wales.

Length of stay by gestational age

Transfers - how many babies are moved to a different hospital during their time in neonatal care?

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 some commonly asked questions about baby 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.

Find out more

Some of the statistics on this page have been generated with help from the Neonatal Data Analysis Unit (NDAU). This data is available for clinicians, researchers or anyone who has an interest in learning more about babies who are cared for in neonatal care, and how this is changing over time.

You can access the tool here.

Download references

Download the reference list for statistics on this page

The information on this page was last updated on 9 April 2024.