Complications Giving Birth – Levels of NICU

Pregnant women may have heard the term NICU, which stands for neonatal intensive care unit. When there are complications giving birth, a baby may require special care in the NICU. One of the most common complications giving birth is premature delivery, defined as any time before 37 weeks’ gestation.

Complications vary in premature births:

  • Immature lung development is the primary concern that doctors have for premature labor, and there are ways to check the maturity level of the baby’s lungs.
  • Infection may be a possibility due to weak immunity, and placing the baby in an incubator is a way to protect from infections. The incubator also helps the baby maintain body heat, another issue of prematurity.
  • Jaundice is a yellowish skin color that is treated by a special light in the NICU.
  • Premature newborns may need feeding through an intravenous (IV) tube if their gastrointestinal system isn’t able to absorb nutrients yet or if they don’t have the ability to suck or swallow on their own.
  • Other conditions may also occur with red blood cell counts, intestines or the heart, or there may be bacteria in the bloodstream.

Many women don’t know there will be complications giving birth until the day arrives. Therefore, it’s helpful to understand about hospitals’ different levels of neonatal care. Here is what to expect from each of the NICU levels:

Level I – Basic Neonatal Care

A hospital categorized as Level I is equipped to provide basic care for babies who are considered “low-risk” – born between 35-37 weeks gestation. They can also provide routine postnatal care for healthy babies, as well as stabilize newborns who need to be transferred to a hospital that offers a higher level of care.

Level II – Special Neonatal Care

A Level II hospital provides special care for preterm babies born later than 32 weeks gestation. While these newborns will need more care than that available at a Level I hospital, these babies are generally stable or have minor issues that can usually be resolved quickly. 

Level III – Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

A Level III hospital has an actual NICU, or neonatal intensive care unit. Any baby born at less than 32 weeks with a low birth weight, as well as babies born with issues like birth defects, illness or delivery difficulties, should be cared for at a hospital with a NICU. Here, specially trained doctors and nurses, plus a broad range of specialists, are available, as is the technology needed to care for premature babies and those with more serious issues.

Level IV – Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

A hospital that’s designated as having a Level IV NICU has the highest level of newborn care available. They have all the same capabilities of a Level III NICU while also having additional capabilities, expertise and experience in caring for those infants needing the most critical, complex and urgent care, including those needing surgical attention.

As you research hospitals to determine where you’d like to deliver, it’s important to check the hospital’s neonatal care designation. While an expectant mom rarely expects complications giving birth that require special care, you’ll want to know help is there if you need it. 

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