We spoke with nurse manager Angie Baker about what the NICU is and why Madison needs it.
What is a NICU?
The NICU's Angie Baker: "The joy in my work comes in helping infants at their most critical time in life, and seeing them get better so they can go home with their families."
Angie Baker: A NICU is a neonatal intensive care unit. It's where babies who need extra support or who are ill at their time of birth get the care that they need. Sometimes babies are born with unexpected conditions. Families and providers in the region can call on us to provide immediate help.
We want families to be able to be as close to their newborns as they can while they get this specialized care. In the past that may have meant having to travel longer distances. By having it in Madison, we'll be able to keep families closer. We're really bringing the service to them.
What services does the NICU provide?
A.B.: Our NICU at American Family Children's Hospital is unique. We're not duplicating services that already exist in Madison, but rather, we are a regional and statewide resource for other nurseries. Our NICU is a 14-bed surgical unit, so we see the most complex and acute surgical cases in the area, the state and sometimes beyond. After surgical recovery, babies are transferred back to their home NICU, when possible.
Not only do we have patients with emergent needs, but also patients who need to be taken care of in the early days and weeks following birth. For instance, we are able to provide neurological monitoring (continuous a-EEG), when needed, for all neonates. We also support the cardiac surgery program for newborns with cardiac and neurological monitoring. This is critical because fetal circulation is different than newborn circulation. When we detect variations on normal cardiac functions or structure, quick action must be taken during the first few days of birth. We are in partnership with our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) to care for those infants that require this type of support and care.
What are some of the challenges in caring for newborns?
A.B.: Newborns have unique needs. Especially when they are premature, their brains aren't fully developed. One of the things we can provide is developmentally-supportive care. We can make sure their brains grow as they would in utero. In addition to complications they might have from surgery, they will have to learn to do the simple things before going home. We support the family in learning how to breastfeed and the benefits of skin to skin care or "kangaroo care." We also teach families how to use the car seat correctly and make sure the baby can tolerate sitting upright in the seat. The Kohl's Safety Center helps us with that.
There is a lot of newborn education, too. For many families, this baby may be their first child, so we include education regarding feeding and sleeping patterns as well.
How does the NICU strive to make the patient and family experience comfortable?
A.B.: Families are in NICU rooms that are private and larger than most. They're able to be at the bedside as much as possible to partner with us in their baby’s care. We have couches that convert to beds, and each room has a private bathroom so that parents don't have to leave if they want to be close by. We also have overnight rooms on the same floor. It's really set up well to provide family-centered care, everything families need while they're here at the hospital, kind of a home away from home.
Why is American Family Children's Hospital a good venue for this type of NICU?
A.B.: The Children's Hospital has an outstanding support network already in place. I can't emphasize enough how important that is. Some of the most exciting things are the different support services that will be available to the families, like Child Life and health psychology services. We have sibling care in Tyler's Place. We have tremendous support for occupational therapy, speech therapy and all of the specialized pediatric services. They all benefit this NICU greatly.
Why did you decide to work in the NICU?
A.B.: I've always loved babies. I really have a place in my heart for newborns and families and that special time in their lives. I started in a NICU right out of my undergraduate program and I've always wanted to be near it. The joy in my work comes in helping infants at their most critical time in life. Some of these children need a lot of support to get better. It's very rewarding watching them in the weeks and months as they do get better and go home to their families.