NICU Know-How

The birth of your baby is a special time, but if your new little one requires a stay in the neonatal intensive care (NICU), that time may become stressful. According to Dr. Kathleen Weatherstone, HCA Midwest Health’s Neonatal ICU Program medical director, 10 percent of all babies born need some type of special care at delivery and that may include the NICU.

NICU care encompasses four levels. According to Dr. Alison G. Blevins, MD, OB/GYN, at Olathe Medical Center, the levels break down like this:

  • Level I or Well Baby Nursery, for infants born 35 weeks or later who are generally healthy.
  • Level II or Special Care Nursery, provides care for infants born 32 weeks or later and weigh at least 1,500 grams (about 3 pounds). Infants within this level can receive advanced treatment, such as intubation for a short period of time or respiratory support with a special mask. Infants within this level usually have conditions that are expected to resolve quickly.  Coming spring 2017 to Olathe Medical Center is an advanced, Level II NICU where parents can stay overnight with Baby in the same room. 
  • Level III NICU can provide all of the above but can care for critically ill infants less than 32 weeks or those weighing less than 1,500 grams.  These critically ill infants may require continuous life support or critical medical and surgical care with access to a full range of subspecialists. 
  • Level IV NICU has all of the capabilities of Level III and is located at institutions that can facilitate on-site surgical repair of serious congenital or acquired malformations.

Sometimes doctors and parents know ahead of time that a stay in the NICU will be necessary.  Dr. Blevins says, “While we would like to always be able to predict and plan when a NICU admission may be needed, it may not be determined until the time at which the mother goes into labor—or even after delivery has already occurred.” In either case, the NICU staff will be ready to treat your baby and work to get him home as soon as possible. 

During a NICU stay, parents can do some things to help support their baby. “Parents are the most important people to their baby,” Dr. Weatherstone says. “We encourage parents to be in the NICU as much as possible and be caregivers as much as they are able.” For Baby, hearing his parents’ voices, as well as feeling their touch, is important. And not only is the interaction good for Baby, it benefits the parents as well!

Below, two local moms share their NICU stories. 

Tazrina and Tahiya

Tazrina, a mother to a healthy little boy, was anxiously expecting her second child. The world fell out from under her when she went into labor at 25 weeks. Her baby girl, Tahiya, was born at a fragile 1 lb, 8.5 oz and spent 127 days in the NICU. Tazrina describes the experience as a rollercoaster. “We’d have a good day, then a bad day. Her oxygen needs would decrease one day, and the next she would stop breathing and they would go back up. Even at the very end—she was supposed to come home the next day—she had a setback and had to stay for 10 more days. You cannot expect or anticipate anything in the NICU because every day is a new, unpredictable rollercoaster.”

Despite the agony this experience caused her family, Tazrina has found a silver lining. She is thankful her daughter did eventually come home to live with her big brother. And she is proud of her own strength. “I didn’t know I was this strong, but my daughter gave me that realization.”

Laura and Logan

Laura’s baby boy Logan was born full term. After a healthy pregnancy, she and her husband did not anticipate complications. But within a few hours, doctors were alerting Laura that something was wrong with their new son. He was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, as well as a heart condition, often associated with Down Syndrome, that required NICU recovery. However, the nearest NICU was four hours from Laura’s small hometown. While her son was flown there by helicopter, Laura had to drive with her husband a mere 10 hours post-delivery. They also had a young son at home whom they had to leave with family unexpectedly. 

Laura describes the heartbreaking experience: “They took a Polaroid of him and had me look at it while I pumped in hopes to get milk flowing. They gave me a swatch of flannel to wear under my shirt and had one in his bed. Every hour or two we would switch so we still could smell each other. It broke my heart.”

Laura also says, “The waiting is hard. It's a lot and lot of waiting. Good days are boring days. If it's a day full of activity, something is wrong. Hurry up and wait.”

Tazrina and Laura speak of the importance of support from family and friends and the power of prayer. Both had husbands who had to return to work and young sons at home who needed care. And both were at the NICU for hours a day, trying to bond with their new babies. Laura provides the following advice for friends and family: “If you have a friend in the NICU, send gift cards for gas and nearby restaurants. Set up a meal train for when they are home. Be patient and listen. The parents will be obsessing about every diagnosis, so just listen. Be the friend who asks questions. Come visit the NICU, as it can be a lonely place.”
Through all the heartache that comes with having a NICU baby, both mothers rave about their NICU doctors and nurses and speak of times of pure joy. Tazrina remembers the day Tahiya was transferred to a crib from an incubator as a day she cannot describe in words. Laura remembers a day that Logan opened his big blue eyes and just stared at her, as if to say “Love me. Just love me.” And that was all she needed. 

Both Tahiya and Logan are happy and healthy growing children thanks to amazing NICU doctors!

NICU Facts 

  • Both premature and full-term babies can be found in the NICU.
  • Not all hospitals have a NICU, so babies are transported to another hospital immediately after birth if there are complications.
  • Each baby is assigned a multidisciplinary team, which may include doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, dietitians and physical, occupational and speech therapists and others working in collaboration to care for him/her.
  • Babies are ready to leave the NICU when they do three things: maintain their temperature, breathe comfortably on their own and gain weight while taking full feedings by mouth.

Olathe mom Karen Johnson has three children, ages 6, 4 and 2. She writes at

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