If your newborn needs to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, a group of different medical professionals will be there to help. Here's a rundown of some of the consultants and support staff you can expect to meet in the NICU.
Each person who works in the NICU has a different specialty: Your bedside NICU nurses work most closely with your baby, providing care and observing closely for important changes. A neonatologist specializes in the health problems of newborns. They supervise and coordinate care. A cardiologist is trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the heart and blood vessels. If a baby has a heart defect, a cardiovascular surgeon will perform the surgery to fix it.
An infectious disease specialist treats babies who have serious infections, including infections of the blood, brain, or spinal cord. A neurologist diagnoses and treats conditions of the brain, nerves, and muscles. You might see a neurologist if your baby has seizures, or is born with a nervous system condition like spina bifida. When the problem needs to be corrected with surgery, a neurosurgeon will perform the operation.
An endocrinologist diagnoses and treats hormone problems, such as diabetes. Gastroenterologists are expert at treating digestive problems of the stomach and intestines. A hematologist-oncologist treats blood disorders and cancer. An infant might see this type of doctor for a problem with blood clotting. A nephrologist focuses on diseases of the kidneys and urinary system. If your baby was born with a kidney problem, you will talk to this doctor about treatments, and possibly the need for surgery. Pulmonologists treat newborn lung problems, such as respiratory distress syndrome. You might see this doctor if your baby was born with a breathing condition. Then you'll work with a respiratory therapist to treat the problem.
If you had a very high-risk pregnancy, you'll work with a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. This doctor can help if your baby was born prematurely, or you had twins or other multiples. Babies who are born with eye defects see an ophthalmologist, a doctor who diagnoses and treats eye problems. If your newborn needs x-rays, an x-ray technician will take the test, and a radiologist will read the results.
Sometimes babies are born with or at risk for developmental delays. If that is the case, a developmental pediatrician will test your child, and help you find the right care once you leave the NICU. The pediatrician may recommend that you see an occupational or physical therapist to assess your baby's reflexes, movement, and feeding. While you're in the NICU, you'll also see a neonatal nurse practitioner. This specialist will work closely with your doctor to make sure your baby gets just the right care.
Being in the NICU can feel scary and new at first. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Your NICU medical team is there to care for your baby, and to make sure you're prepared to take over that care once you get home.