1. Newborns
  2. Premature babies
  3. Neonatal intensive care

Neonatal intensive care unit: family-centred care

If you have a baby in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), you should expect some level of family-centred care. It’s good for your baby and good for you.

Family-centred care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)

Even though your baby needs to be cared for by medical staff, you are your baby’s family. As family, you are your baby’s primary and long-term source of care, love and support. The strong bond between you and your baby should be fostered and nurtured throughout your baby’s time in hospital. 

This is the basic idea behind family-centred care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

So family-centred care is about respecting your relationship with your baby and treating you with respect. It’s also about working as a team with you to make decisions about your baby’s care and treatment in the NICU.

When the bond between you and your baby is fostered and you’re involved in your baby’s care, it improves the quality and continuity of your baby’s care – in the NICU and in the transition to home.

Hospitals vary in how much family-centred care they offer, but family-centred care is becoming the ‘gold standard’ in NICUs. That’s because it cuts down how long babies stay in hospital, helps with bonding between parents and babies, and helps parents feel better. It might also help with babies’ long-term development.

What to look for in a NICU with family-centred care

A family-centred NICU welcomes you at any time. Its staff make sure that you’re involved in taking care of your baby, and they talk openly and clearly with you about your baby’s care. They give you the chance to ask questions so that you can feel confident that your baby is getting medical care that’s high quality and right for her.

Family-centred care means that doctors and nurses should:

  • welcome you by name and tell you how your baby has been since your last visit
  • look for the special things that only you can do for your baby and help you feel useful
  • help you learn more about caring for your baby
  • take every chance to help you bond with your baby
  • ask you to share the special things you know and feel about your baby
  • tell you what you need to know in clear, simple, understandable words so that you can be involved in decisions about your baby’s treatment.

As a parent, you should have the chance to:

  • talk, sing or read to your baby
  • bath your baby, change nappies or help with positioning
  • help with weighing or giving vitamins
  • feed your baby
  • have skin-to-skin contact with your baby
  • ask questions about your baby’s treatment.
Ideally, family-centred care should give you the right involvement and information at the right time so that you feel supported and able to cope with the NICU experience. Hospital staff will do their best, but if you need more or less information or involvement at different times, it’s OK to let staff know.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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