If your baby’s born prematurely or unwell, he may need to go into SCBU. Find out what to expect from these early days and how to help your baby
All maternity hospitals have a Special Care Baby Unit (SBCU), or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NNICU), to care for babies who need extra care after they’re born.
Within the neonatal unit there will often be an intensive care unit for very sick babies, and also a high dependency unit for babies that need intravenous feeding (with a drip) or help with their breathing.
The rest of the unit will be devoted to babies whose needs are less serious – perhaps they need a bit of extra oxygen to help them breathe for a few days, or phototherapy treatment for newborn jaundice.The vast majority of babies in special care are premature babies but the needs of these babies can vary a lot, so some will be in for a long time, while others may just be in for a day or two.
The care your baby will receive depends a lot on his particular health problems, but the following guide will give you a general insight into some of the things you’ll experience if your baby needs to go into SCBU.
Premature babies, and those with other health problems, need to be monitored very closely, as they’re prone to infection and may need help with their breathing.
Tiny babies are also not very good at controlling their own body temperature – this is why they’re placed in incubators, where the temperature is strictly controlled. You may wonder why babies in incubators aren't wrapped in blankets – it may not look cosy, but there's a good reason for it. The staff know exactly what the temperature is inside the incubator, so your baby will never be too cold, even without coverings, and this makes it much easier for the medical staff to keep an eye out for changes in skin colour, and see if your baby is breathing well.
If your baby is very premature or has trouble breathing, he won’t be able to suck, so may be fed milk via a tube into his stomach.
When your baby’s in the SCBU, you may feel a bit helpless – he’s being cared for by so many efficient doctors and nurses that it can seem as if there’s very little you can do to help. But you’re very special to your baby and your love is just as vital to his wellbeing as his medical treatment.Talk to the staff to find out how you can get involved in caring for your baby and how you can ensure that what your doing is of benefit. If they do rule out anything you want to do – such as cuddling your baby – it’s probably because they know your baby won’t be able to cope with it yet.
Here are some of the ways you may be able to help him:
Visiting your baby day after day in the SCBU can be emotionally exhausting. Don’t feel guilty about taking time out for you and your partner. You’ve both been through a tough time, too. Try to talk through your emotions, as this is one way to ease the pressure and keep your relationship strong.
“On the second day after the birth, while I was still in hospital, I got a real fright when Stephanie stopped breathing and her skin turned blue while I was feeding her."The doctor examined her and said there’s a tiny valve in babies’ lungs which closes birth but sometimes it takes a couple of days, and this is what happened to Stephanie."She went into special care so her breathing could be monitored for a couple of days to make sure she was all right, and then she was given the all clear and I took her home."She never had any problems breathing after that, and I’ve almost forgotten the fright I got when it all happened!” Eileen, mum to Stephanie, 2
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