According To NICU Nurses: 20 Stories About Working The Unit

The NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) is a place where some babies go when they need more intensive medical care. Not every hospital has a NICU, however, a baby will always be transferred to the nearest one if needed. While the reasons a baby may be taken to the NICU may differ, the medical professionals always have the same goal; they want to release a healthy baby that's able to function on its own.

A NICU nurse told How Stuff Works that "A general, good definition is a place in the hospital for babies who require more than routine care. That could be a course of antibiotics or extremely high-level intensive care. There is a real variety in the types of babies in the NICU. There are one-pound babies hooked to a lot of machinery as well as babies who look healthy, chubby and fat, and are there for special feeding or IV [intravenous] meds. There are also babies who need surgical intervention." Knowing for how many reasons a baby can be in the NICU, it's important for parents not to compare their child to the next. In fact, there are many medical professionals in this article who have advice and stories for parents, so their NICU experience doesn't have to be as dark as it actually is. Below are their stories.

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20 NICU Nurses Have To Hold It Together For The Patient's Sake

Considering what the nurses and doctors go through every day in the NICU, it's amazing they make it through a shift without bawling their eyes out. A nurse on Reddit explained how she made it through her shifts without shedding a tear. "I do my best to hold it all together through my shift (though I sometimes let it show in front of some parents. Sometimes it helps to know your nurse is human and cares!), then I pick up the best comfort food on the way home. Usually a giant burger, milkshake, and fries. I cuddle up on the couch with my SO, tell him about it, and watch TV. It helps."

19 One Nurse's Favorite Part Of The Job

Although working in the NICU can be tense, there are some major benefits to working in the NICU; specifically, when babies grow stronger or heal and are able to go home with their families. One nurse told Reddit, "My favorite part of my job is when a patient is critical and I’m able to help it survive, whether it be a bad delivery or a code situation. Something about coming through some organized chaos having accomplished the goal of helping a baby is very satisfying..."

18 Sometimes A Change Of Career Comes To Mind

Being a nurse in any department is admirable work. It has to be tough to see the lows and highs every single day, so it wouldn't be a crazy thought to think of a different career path — just to avoid the flood of emotions. One nurse told Reddit what made her think about changing careers.

"My first death. The baby was doing great all day. A tiny baby, 26 weeker gestational age I think? But he had been having a really great day. Tolerating all of his feedings, keeping his oxygen sats where they needed to be... Then he pulmonary hemorrhaged. We called the code, and within 15 minutes he [passed]. My preceptor (I was still in orientation at this point), kept saying it over and over again that she had never seen it happen that fast. I did all of the post-mortem care. I held it together and then got home and broke down."

17 NICU Workers Need Parents To Know Their Stuff Too

As much as parents want to be on the sidelines while in the NICU (so the professionals can do their job), nurses and doctors also need the parents to know what's going on with their baby and how to help.

When someone asked a NICU nurse what advice they'd give to parents, the nurse got candid. Just like every classic sign we've ever seen in a medical hallway, parents of NICU babies should know CPR. "It’s better to know it and not use it than the other way around," they told Reddit

16 There Are Common Problems In NICU Babies


Vicky Leland (RN and Regional Director of NICU Family Support, West Region, for the March of Dimes) told How Stuff Works, the most common problems in babies brought to the NICU are "Jaundice, respiratory issues, [and] feeding problems." Thinking about the actual birthing process, babies rely entirely on their mother's womb to survive for nine months. Once they're born, all their little organs have to function on their own. Not all babies are the same though, and that's why the NICU is so important.

15 NICU Doctors And Nurses Must Respect One Another's Decisions While Working

Big King

One Redditor mentioned how they heard all doctors have to treat nurses well — to work as a team. Likewise, they were wondering if nurses had to treat doctors in the same regard. One nurse wrote "It honestly depends on what kind of Hospital you're at. We're taught to respect the doctors and to only act professionally with them, to never disagree in a way that seems insubordinate." That being said, this particular nurse has worked in hospitals where they were given no respect at all, being talked down to and treated like an "idiot," with no real consequences to the doctors for their actions.

14 It Takes An Army

Kaiser Permanente Family Birth Center

One person wanted to know what kind of help families receives while in the NICU. For anyone who's never had to be in the NICU, they may assume it's like every other cold hospital room, but it's way more involved than the norm. It's a community in the NICU. Besides an army of nurses, doctors, and specialists taking care of the baby, nurse Vicky Leland said there are also "Lactation consultants help with breastfeeding, special diet, and special formulas. Dietitians specialize in the infant's nutritional needs. Social workers counsel families. Hospital chaplains are incredibly helpful to families in crises, and are either on staff or sometimes, neighboring churches send volunteer chaplains and ministers to visit families in the hospitals."

13 How Do Nurses And Doctors In The NICU Stay Organized?

Via: bady qb on Unsplash

With so many babies and families coming in and out every day, it must be tough to keep everything on track, right? How do these superheroes prioritize their busy schedules!? One nurse told My Perfect Resume, "I always have to remember to slow down and take a look at the facts before deciding what order to do things in. Those patients with the most critical needs will always come first so I can ensure they’re receiving the immediate attention they require in order for their recovery to go as planned." They continue, saying, "Generally, once I’ve created my plan, sticking to it is simple. However, I’m always flexible enough to deviate from my self-created plan of action if an emergency arises when I’m on the move.

12 The Babies Aren't The Only Ones Who Need Support

The NICU will do anything in their power to care and save your child. At the same time though, they're also willing to do anything to keep the spirits of the family members high. After all, they're in a helpless position. "One of the things I found along the way is that the babies aren't the only ones in the family who need care. We need to look up from the bed and care for mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings. If the families aren't tended to along the way, it won't work." There are many NICUs that offer an array of support teams to keep positive morale in the family going strong.

11 NICU Professionals Want You To Ask Them Questions

In the age of the Internet, there are a ton of patients who would rather Google NICU stories, outcomes, and problems than actually ask professionals. But here's the thing, these doctors and nurses want you to ask them questions! One nurse told Very Well Family, "If it’s just going to get you anxious when you stumble across preemie stories with negative outcomes, skip it. If you’re going to stress and fret all night long if you read about worst-case scenarios, skip it. What to do instead? Ask your questions to your doctors and nurses, and ask other NICU parents you meet."

10 Parents Can Ask For A Primary Nurse They Like (If Possible)

Even though these NICU specialists, nurses, and doctors only want what's best for these babies, sometimes parent's don't particularly vibe well with them or enjoy one nurse in particular. As the parent, you can request a primary nurse assigned to your child (if there's one nurse you really like) if the hospital allows primary nurses. If having a primary nurse isn't accepted at that particular hospital, and there's one nurse you really don't care for — you can always request for them to not be assigned to your child. One nurse continued saying "It is perfectly acceptable, and it happens all the time. The nurses are most likely not offended, not surprised. And regardless, this is your baby, so you should feel comfortable with the people caring for him or her."

9 These Nurses And Doctors WANT You To Hold Your Child

While these premature babies may seem way too fragile to hold or touch, that's not always the case. When a baby is cleared, nurses encourage parents to ask about holding their baby to bond. One nurse told Pretrm "I cannot put enough emphasis on this! It seems scary initially, especially if they have a breathing tube and multiple lines hooked up to them, but it is critical for their development and for your bonding."They continued saying "Kangaroo care (holding your baby skin to skin) helps with suck, swallow, and breathe when they are stable enough to begin feeding. It also helps with mom’s milk production and helps them regulate their own temperature and heart rates."

8 Sometimes These Professionals Ignore The Parents (For A Good Reason)

One nurse told PreTRM that sometimes parents feel like the professionals are ignoring them in dire situations — but that's not the case. "As medical professionals, in an emergency situation, we are focusing on saving your baby’s or another baby’s life. Consequently, during these emergencies, we don’t communicate as well with the parents as we could. Try to remember that we are focusing on saving a baby’s life and that once we have stabilized the situation, we will be happy to speak to you and answer all of your questions."

7 Not Every Parent Is Thrilled With The NICU

While most NICUs have similar protocols, not all are the same. But the common goal is always similar: to release a safe and healthy baby. However, there was one mother in particular who felt like their NICU was reaching for the stars and wasn't being realistic about their baby's goals. Living an hour away from her baby's NICU, she was upset with how some nurses handled feeding their child and didn't understand why her baby was still there if he seemed to be doing good enough to go home. One nurse assured her on What to Expect that there were reasons for this.

"If you think it is stressful to have a baby in the NICU, it would be so much more so to have a baby at home that does not eat well and then it becomes all your problem to deal with. You may think it is extreme but we know exactly what we're talking about. We want your baby to come home with you and stay home, not come home and eat ok for a while, then get tired and fail to gain weight, and have to be readmitted to the hospital."

6 It Doesn't Get Easier

While some of us non-medical professionals must think infant deaths get easier the more they happen (they must be numb to it by this point, right?), that's not always the case. A few NICU nurses took to Reddit to give support to one another when they dealt with a death. One nurse said "Male NICU nurse here. I've cried every time I've lost a patient. It is difficult, not only for me but for my co-workers too. If you need to cry just do it. I learned not to hold emotions in, makes things worse. I've dealt with a lot of infants dying unfortunately and, for me, it doesn't get easier. We work in a highly stressful job and self-care, as people have mentioned, is so important. Almost all hospitals offer free counseling that's anonymous, I encourage you to look into it if you need to talk to someone. Don't feel embarrassed to take advantage of this service, I've had to a few times."

5 Shifts Change Consistently For Nurses

Working in the medical profession is tough. There will always be a need for someone in the hospital because there will always be births, accidents, passings, etc... One nurse did a "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit where she explained she has bounced around a few departments in the hospital, along with the NICU. "I worked 3-12 hours shifts in the hospital. With report and all, it would be 7 to like 7:30-8. I worked overnights forever. I would usually have a call shift every few weeks for 12 hours and would occasionally pick up extra. After going to management I went 8-5 a week and now I work from home and in the field. My hours are still 8-5 but that varies depending on what I need to do."

4 Sometimes Nurses Watch The Parents Fall Apart

Watching your child try to get stronger in the NICU can be one of the hardest things on a couple. Especially when one is there more than the other or one person handles their emotions differently. One nurse told Cracked "It doesn't take long for NICU parents to start resenting each other -- especially if one of them is more ready to say "That's enough, please let the baby go" than the other. I think both options have merit. Sometimes, it is less cruel to let a child die..." The nurse also mentioned how men tend to get less maternity leave from work, which usually leaves the other parent in the NICU alone and lonely.

3 Don't Compare NICU Stories

A great thing about online forums is that parents can come together and ask similar questions and try to get answers from those who know what it's like. The problem with this, however, is that every child's situation is different. Morgana Jokiel, a NICU nurse, told Get Healthcare, "Don’t try to compare your experience (or your baby’s) to anyone else’s. Take each new milestone or victory and celebrate it with all you have. Those little victories will get you through. Spend all the time you can with your baby – bond, learn and love. Finally, be kind to yourself, and practice self-care whenever you can. You can do this.”

2 Remember To Celebrate The Good News!

Being in a NICU seems like a full-time as a parent. Although times may be tough, and there might be dark days more than good days, nurses want to remind parents to celebrate the good days! "It’s very important for parents to celebrate and savor small milestones," one nurse said to The Huffington Post. They continued saying "savor every one of those positive moments." Celebrating the good things (and the small things) can boost your mood and confidence overall.

1 Some Moments Are Unbearable To Witness


There are different levels in the NICU, level III being the most severe. One nurse took to NICU Healing to describe some of the toughest moments in her field. "I work in a level III-IV intensive care NICU and we care for the tiniest and sickest babies. At times they can experience immense pain. They can often have various central lines, catheters in their chest, bladder, various tubes in their throats and noses, etc. They are fighting for their lives. I can't even imagine the pain the parents must be feeling to have their child in our NICU. When they are at their greatest moment of weakness or need, I know I need to stay strong and be a source of comfort and support."


References: How Stuff Works, Reddit, Reddit, My Perfect Resume, Pretrm

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