The Neonatal Unit and Transitional Care

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Sometimes babies need care in the neonatal unit when they are born. The most common reason is prematurity, when your baby is born before 37 weeks. However, babies born after this may also need to be admitted to the unit or may be suitable for transitional care.

Transitional care is when you are still with your baby and caring for them while they receive some extra observations or treatments. This will take place either on the postnatal ward or in a parent bay in the neonatal unit. This allows us to give them the extra care they need whilst you remain together.

If your baby requires more care than this, they will be admitted to the Neonatal Unit. You will have the opportunity to visit your baby at all times but won’t be able to have your bed beside them.

Babies can be born early for a number of reasons. Labour may start early; there may be concerns over your health or the health of your baby; or you may be expecting more than one baby. If an early birth is planned, it’s because it’s considered the safest option.

Sometimes your caregivers will consider moving you and your baby to a unit that can provide more intensive neonatal care.

Other reasons your baby may need to be admitted to a neonatal unit

Babies may need help with controlling their temperature, breathing, or maintaining normal blood sugar levels,especially if you had diabetes during your pregnancy. It is also more likely that your baby will need support if there were any problems with the baby’s growth or any underlying health conditions were diagnosed at your scan or straight after birth.

Your baby may need treatment for infection or early-onset jaundice.

What to expect to see on the Neonatal Unit

As you arrive at the neonatal unit, you will be asked to wash your hands before entering the ward.

If your baby is having intensive or high dependency care, you will see incubators. Seeing your baby in one of these can be daunting, especially when there are feeding tubes and monitors in use, but they will keep your baby warm and monitor them closely to keep them safe. You will still be able to interact with your baby and they will feel reassured by the sound of your voice and touch.

If your baby is receiving special care, they may need help with their temperature and oxygen levels. They will be monitored in a normal cot with a heated mattress and a small monitor wrapped around their foot. This requires less input from staff, but don’t worry, you will still be supported to care for your baby.
Parents of babies receiving care on the neonatal unit aren’t treated as visitors but as joint caregivers. We understand this can be a scary time, but the team will keep you informed and answer any questions.
However you choose to feed your baby, the team will be on hand to support you. Breastmilk is highly valued as part of every baby’s journey on the neonatal unit. If you are separated from your baby, your breastfeeding journey will be helped by expressing milk as soon as possible after birth. Even better if this can be in the first hour. Babies born early may need extra time to learn how to feed, which is an important goal before you go home together.

Breastfeeding / Chestfeeding your baby in Neonatal care

Hand expressing

In the early days, it’s often easier toexpress your milk by hand. Yourmidwife or a Infant feeding supporter can show you how.

You’ll probably only express a fewdrops to begin with but, if you handexpress often, this will increase. Even if you are only expressing a small amount it will still help your baby.

Collecting your milk

In the early days you can collect your milk in a small, sterile cup and store it in a syringe.

The staff, your midwife or a infant feeding supporter can give you advice about how to increase your milk supply.

Using a breast pump

Once you are producing more milk, you could try using a breast pump. If your baby is in a neonatal unit, the hospital will usually be able to lend you an electric breast pump for expressing your milk. If they cannot lend you one, you can hire one.

Tube feeding your baby

Babies do not normally learn to co-ordinate the sucking, swallowing and breathing needed for feeding until about 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.

If your baby is born before this time, they may need to have breast milk through a feeding tube to begin with. This goes through their nose or mouth into their stomach. The staff in the neonatal unit can show you how to feed your baby this way.

Intravenous line

Babies who are very premature or sick may need to be fed through anintravenous (IV) line to begin with. A fluid containing nutrients is fed straight into your baby’s vein.

Further Support

The National Breastfeeding Helpline –  0300 100 0212 

If your baby is unwell, it can be very easy to forget that you need ongoing care for yourself. While you’re still in hospital the maternity team will continue your care. If you’re discharged home and spend a lot of your time with your baby at the hospital, it can be easy to miss appointments with the midwife. You’re a priority too, and your postnatal care can be provided wherever you are.
Having a baby admitted to hospital can be a difficult time for the whole family. Your partner and other children may also need extra support while you spend time with your baby. The midwifery and health Visiting Team are there to support you as a family in any way they can.
More Information can be found on

Explanation point

Neonatal unitA special area of the hospital that provides intensive medical care for newborn babies.
JaundiceJaundice in newborn babies is common and usually harmless. It causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. The medical term for jaundice in babies is neonatal jaundice.
DiabetesA condition where your blood glucose level is too high. It can happen when your body doesn't produce enough insulin, if the insulin it produces isn't effective or when your body can't produce any insulin at all.
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