About the special care nursery
A special care nursery has specialist doctors, nurses, other professionals and equipment to care for sick and premature babies. But babies in the special care nursery are healthier and stronger than babies in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
If your baby is ready to go to the special care nursery, this means that medical staff are confident that your baby can keep up their own body temperature and breathe either by themselves or with less help.
Some sick or premature babies who need less intensive care go straight to a special care nursery after birth, instead of a NICU.
What to expect in the special care nursery
In a special care nursery, neonatologists care for your baby. Neonatologists are doctors who specialise in newborn or neonatal care. Your baby will see other medical specialists if needed.
Nurses monitor your baby but less often than in the NICU. Each nurse in the special care nursery looks after several babies.
If your baby has come from the NICU, they’ll probably no longer need most of the medical equipment that was used to care for them there.
In the special care nursery, you and your partner can start doing more things for your baby. You can cuddle your baby for much longer and take over some of their care, like nappy changes.
Your baby might also start to breastfeed at your breast or from a bottle, rather than having your breastmilk through a tube.
When your baby is big enough, they can come out of the incubator and sleep in an open cot where you can touch them more easily.
You might have felt at home and familiar with NICU staff and routines. Getting to know the staff in the special care nursery will help you to feel at home there too. One way to get to know them is by being there during ward rounds, talking to staff about your baby’s progress, and sharing what you’ve learned about your baby’s likes and dislikes.
Moving to a special care nursery in a different hospital
Hospitals with NICUs tend to be located in large cities. You might have gone to a hospital in a large city to give birth, or your baby might have been transferred after birth.
If you live a long way from the hospital with the NICU that has been looking after your baby, it’s likely that your baby will be moved to a special care nursery in a hospital closer to home.
Your baby might be transported in a specially equipped ambulance, with an incubator and the technology that they need for the trip. Sometimes babies who are close to going home can be transported in a taxi with a nurse escort.
Getting used to the special care nursery
You might have mixed feelings about your baby’s move to the special care nursery.
You might feel excited that your baby is getting closer to coming home. It’s also common to feel anxious about being more responsible for your baby’s care, or worried that your baby will be getting less individualised specialist care from the nurses.
The medical and nursing staff in the special care nursery are highly qualified and experienced in looking after sick and premature babies. They’ll be able to help you and your partner learn about being hands-on parents, including feeding and bathing your baby. Just ask them for help and advice if you need it. You can also talk to them about your fears or worries.
The new nursery might have different guidelines and policies from the NICU, even if it’s in the same hospital. You can still expect family-centred care just like in the NICU, and to be treated as part of the team caring for your baby. Other family members, including siblings and grandparents, can be more involved too.
If there’s anything you’re not sure about, it’s OK to ask the staff to let you know how the nursery works.
When your baby moves to the special care nursery, it’s a good time to start planning for your baby going home.