NICU awareness month highlights Aspirus’ critical role caring for tiniest patients

Premature baby receiving medical care
Premature baby receiving medical care(123RF)
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 10:31 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Around 10 – 15 percent of all babies born in the US spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit, according to the National Library of Medicine.

September is NICU Awareness Month. The month is designed to honor NICU families and the health professionals who care for them.

Emilie Puig is a registered nurse and clinical educator in the NICU at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. Aspirus Health provides a Level III NICU.

“A level III NICU is a NICU that takes babies that are 32 weeks or less. Or it may be babies of any age, or weights, that are critically ill and potentially needing help with breathing to stay alive,” Puig said.

A NICU offers one of four levels of care, specializing in caring for ill or premature infants and newborns.

Level I (Well Newborn Nursery) care for:

  • Babies who are born on time (at about 40 weeks) who are stable (for example, they can breathe on their own and can maintain their body temperature)
  • Babies who are born at 35 to 37 weeks and are stable
  • Babies who are sick or born before 35 weeks, but only until they can be moved to a nursery with a higher level of care

Level II (Special Care Nursery) care for:

  • Babies who are born before 32 weeks or who weigh less than 3.3 pounds, but only until they can be moved to a nursery that provides a higher level of care.
  • Babies who have just gotten out of a neonatal intensive care unit (also called NICU) and are growing and doing well before being able to go home.
  • Babies who need equipment to help them breathe. These babies should stay in this kind of nursery only for about 24 hours or less; if they need breathing help longer, they should be moved to a higher level of care.

Level III (NICU) care for:

  • Babies who are born before 32 weeks who weigh less than 3.3 pounds
  • Babies of any age or weight who are critically ill.
  • Babies who need equipment to help them breathe to stay alive.
  • Babies who may need surgery.

Level IV (Regional NICU) care for:

  • Babies who may need special surgery for birth defects and other disorders.

“At AWH we take in critically ill babies from all over the state. These very fragile and vulnerable patients need extra special care so that they can go home with their families as soon as possible,” says Puig, a registered nurse and clinical educator in the NICU at AWH. “Whether a child stays with us for four hours or four months, we want the parents and child to feel as comfortable and assured as they can here.”

AWH has the region’s only single-family room model for critically ill babies, meaning parents can stay with their infant 24/7.

Hospitals in the United States that provide special nursing and medical care for babies are divided into four levels depending on the degree of care offered.