Caring for the Tiniest Patients

May 06, 2015

A lot of people think the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a nursery and the nurses just hold babies all day. In reality, our patients are very sick and require a lot of care. A NICU nurse would love to spend more time rocking a baby or reading a book aloud to her. When that happens, it’s a good day.

I came to Lurie Children’s as a student nurse in summer 2000, fell in love with this work, and never left. I’m a Registered Nurse and a Certified Lactation Counselor. I love working as a bedside nurse, constantly monitoring and caring for babies. It’s great to feel that I’m part of a strong team of professionals, with the baby’s best interests at the center. I always feel respected by our doctors, knowing that I can voice my opinion as the caregiver closest to the baby and be listened to with respect.

In a typical 12-hour shift, each nurse cares for two babies, though we work with the most medically fragile babies one on one. We start by reviewing reports and making a head-to-toe assessment, feeding the baby, and giving medications. Unlike nurses working with older children, we are always with our babies. We escort them to every test and appointment. We do our own lab draws. We update parents and participate in rounds. We’re a very independent group up here, and notoriously protective of our babies.

One of the most important parts of my job is educating parents. If their child has a nasogastric tube, I need to show them how to place it. If their child has a chronic condition, I’m teaching the medication regimen.

I’m also providing well-child training: how to take a temperature, when to call the doctor, how to give a bath, how to do umbilical or circumcision care and even how to adjust the car seat correctly. And as a Certified Lactation Counselor, I’m also showing moms how to breastfeed, how to pump and how to store milk safely.

The most gratifying part of my job? I think it’s being able to give parents a sense of ownership and competence. Seeing a teen mom step up and take ownership of her child’s care so that she can feel confident about walking out the door with her baby is very satisfying. Sometimes I feel like a teacher sending my graduates out into the world.

And then sometimes you are with parents whose baby has died. Those are special moments also. You feel almost like an outsider, as though you shouldn’t be there, but many families want you right there with them holding their hands.

We can spend up to six months with our babies and their parents, so it’s no surprise that we often build relationships and may become quite close.

A NICU nurse is a parent’s best resource.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Heroes magazine.