Neonatal Unit (NICU) Guide

NICU at UF Health Shands Children's Hospital


The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a special area in the hospital for newborn babies who need extra care with breathing, medicines, and life-saving procedures. If your child is staying in the NICU, it means that he or she needs a team of health care professionals specially trained to provide advanced care for your infant. In addition to caring for your baby, it is also our goal to provide support for the family.

The NICU Staff

Each of the health care providers caring for your child has special knowledge and skills. You may see the following staff in the NICU:

  • Doctors oversee your child’s care.
  • Nurses do much of the hands-on care and monitoring.
  • Nurse practitioners (NPs) are trained to do many of the same tasks as doctors under a doctor’s supervision.
  • Therapists help assess and improve your child’s breathing, speech, strength, and movement.
  • Dietitians give advice about special eating concerns and nutrition.
  • Pharmacists make sure your child receives the right medication in the correct amount and on schedule.
  • Social workers help you deal with financial concerns, resources, and insurance.
  • Other support staff, including developmental staff, clerks, and Milk Techs help with tasks such as drawing blood or serving meals.

Inside the NICU

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Shands Hospital for Children at UF

The NICU is a busy place. At UF Health, our NICU is an open unit that allows for continuous visual monitoring, even when your nurse is at a different baby’s bedside. Your child may stay in the NICU for a day, a week, or longer. Be prepared to see lots of wires, tubes, and equipment, such as the following:

  • Monitors: These are in place to check your child’s heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. They may have alarms that beep and signal staff when something needs to be checked. Alarms aren’t always a cause for concern. Sometimes even a slight movement from your child sounds an alarm.
  • Oxygen: Most children in the NICU need extra oxygen. It’s given through a nasal cannula (thin plastic tube that sends oxygen through the nose) or a ventilator (machine that helps with breathing).
  • Intravenous (IV) lines and tubes: Your child will have one or more IV lines and tubes in place. All lines and tubes are closely monitored. IV lines usually provide medication or give nutrition. Tubes help drain or suction unneeded fluids or air from your child’s body. They can also be used to give nutrition.
  • Pulse oximeter (or sat monitor): This device measures the level of oxygen in your child’s blood. It has a red light and is connected to a long cable. It’s clipped to a finger or toe.

Helping Your Child

Following are ways to help your child in the NICU:

  • Stay with your child as much as you can
  • Ask your child’s health care provider if you can hold your baby for Kangaroo care
  • Learn all you can about your child’s health problem.
  • Your child can pick up on your fears and worries, by staying positive and upbeat, you can help relieve some of your child’s anxieties and discomfort.

Important Things to Know

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 2 minutes before entering the NICU and after helping care for your child.
  • Turn off all cell phones and beepers. Ask a NICU staff member before bringing any other electronic equipment into the NICU.
  • Items such as plants, flowers, food, balloons, or toys are not allowed in the NICU.
  • You are encouraged to be present for rounds to ask questions.
  • Your child may have a condition that requires isolation. In this case, you’ll be asked to wear protective clothing, gloves, or a facemask.

Commonly Performed Procedures in the NICU

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), is a place where seriously ill patients are cared for by specially trained staff. This special training and teamwork by the staff provide the best possible care for your baby. However, almost always different machinery, devices, and procedures are used in order to give your baby the best chance to get well soon. Sometimes the machines and procedures can seem scary to parents who don’t know what to expect. The video below will explain some of the commonly performed procedures used in the NICU.

Follow-up Care From the NICU

Most children are discharged from the NICU when they:

  • Have stable vital signs with no apnea or bradycardia
  • Can breathe without assistance from a machine or tube
  • No longer need specific medications or treatments that can only be given in the NICU
  • Eating all feeds by mouth and gaining weight

Your child will then be moved to a stepdown nursery. In rare cases, your child is discharged from the NICU to go home.

Family Resources