Nurses play a critical role in the provision of neonatal care, which is the care given to infants within their first 28 days of life. All newborns require a level of care, but neonatal care is typically given to babies born prematurely or with health conditions, as they require additional monitoring and support.
Understanding more about this aspect of healthcare can help you decide whether it is a direction you would want to take in your nursing career. Below, we explore what neonatal intensive care is, the common conditions that make it necessary and what role the nurse plays in providing it.
What is neonatal care?
Discovering some neonatal nurse practitioner facts can help you decide whether this type of nursing is something you would be interested in – if so, Baylor University has a number of courses readily available for you. This care is administered to newborns, especially those born prematurely or with health problems. Neonatal refers to the very first stages of life, and babies may require help with infection management, nutrition and any health complications present at birth during this period. This type of specialized care often involves monitoring babies’ vital signs and ensuring they are stable, intervening to treat medical complications and supporting babies’ health and development in general.
Nurses working in the field also provide emotional support to new parents, who may be facing immense anxiety and emotional distress. Neonatal nurses usually work in hospitals, neonatal intensive care units and specialized pediatric centers.
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Conditions requiring neonatal care
Here are some typical health conditions that make neonatal care necessary:
Prematurity, or preterm birth, is a relatively common issue that requires the attention of neonatal nurses. A premature birth is one where the baby is born before 37 weeks of gestation, which can be problematic, as it puts the infant at higher risk of health complications. Premature babies are more likely to have breathing problems, feeding difficulties and infections. This means they often require neonatal care to closely monitor the child and address any medical issues that arise.
Babies that weigh less than 2,500 grams are considered underweight, and this can have a negative impact on their health and necessitate neonatal care. Premature babies are typically underweight, so the health problems are consistent between the two, with issues like breathing problems and high infection risk arising. Neonatal nurses closely monitor these babies and provide support with feeding, infection management and responding to complications.
Jaundice is a common problem for newborns that often requires neonatal care, but it is typically resolvable. Jaundice occurs when babies have too much bilirubin in their blood, which makes their skin and eyes turn a yellowish color. Healthcare professionals treat this with phototherapy, which involves exposing the infant to light to break down the excess bilirubin.
Respiratory distress syndrome
This is another relatively common condition that requires the attention of neonatal nurses. Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) happens when babies have underdeveloped lungs and struggle to breathe independently. Because RDS sufferers cannot produce enough of something called surfactant, they cannot keep their lungs inflated sufficiently. Nurses help babies overcome these issues by providing respiratory support and closely monitoring their vital signs.
Babies have underdeveloped immune systems, which puts them at higher risk of infections in general. When this is combined with other birth problems, such as prematurity, babies can be at a significantly increased risk of infection and require support from neonatal nurses. If common infections like sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis arise, nurses must act quickly to treat and manage them.
This refers to low blood sugar, and babies with diabetic mothers, those born prematurely and those that are underweight have an increased risk of developing it. Nurses can intervene with neonatal care to monitor babies’ blood sugar and ensure it does not drop below a critical level.
Various injuries can occur during the birthing process, and these require immediate attention from neonatal nurses. Babies experiencing problems like fractures, brain injuries and nerve injuries may require surgeries or other medical interventions.
The nurse’s role in neonatal care
Here are some of the important roles nurses play in the delivery of neonatal care:
Monitoring and assessing vital signs
One of the main duties of neonatal nurses is monitoring babies’ vital signs and carefully observing for any problems or signs of the aforementioned conditions. The main vital signs include heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation levels. Nurses assess these signs constantly and use their expertise to spot abnormalities that require attention.
Proper nutrition is extremely important for newborns, and especially those with health problems and those born prematurely. Nurses are responsible for providing appropriate nutrition and do so through various methods. These include parenteral feeding, nasogastric feeding and oral feeding.
Nurses administer the medications that physicians or senior nurses prescribe. They are responsible for administering medications safely and at the correct frequency. They also monitor babies for adverse reactions and respond to them appropriately.
Childbirth is stressful for parents, even when things go smoothly. When health complications arise, the events become much more stressful for new parents, and nurses help to educate and reassure them, and provide emotional support. They keep parents informed about their baby’s condition and any developments. They may also inform them about potential treatment options and their respective outcomes, which allows parents to get involved in decision making. Once babies recover, nurses must also educate new parents on how to care for the child moving forward, guiding them on issues like feeding and administering medication.