Although your pediatrician can solve most health problems of newborns, a Neonatologist is trained specifically to handle the most complex and high-risk situations.
If your newborn is premature, or has a serious illness, injury, or birth defect, a neonatologist may assist at the time of delivery and in the subsequent care of your newborn. If a problem is identified before your baby is born, a neonatologist may become involved to consult with your obstetrician in your baby’s care during your pregnancy.
What Kind of Training Do Neonatologists Have?
Neonatologists are medical doctors who have had
- At least 4 years of medical school
- Three years of residency training in general pediatrics
- Three years of additional training in newborn intensive care
- Certification from the American Board of Pediatrics and by the Sub-board of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine
What Types of Treatments Do Neonatologists Provide?
Neonatologists generally provide the following care:
- Diagnose and treat newborns with conditions such as breathing disorders, infections, and birth defects.
- Coordinate care and medically manage newborns born premature, critically ill, or in need of surgery.
- Ensure that critically ill newborns receive the proper nutrition for healing and growth.
- Provide care to the newborn at a cesarean or other delivery that involves medical problems in the mother or baby that may compromise the infant’s health and require medical intervention in the delivery room.
- Stabilize and treat newborns with any life-threatening medical problems.
- Consult with obstetricians, pediatricians, and family physicians about conditions affecting newborn infants.
Neonatologists work mainly in the special care nurseries or newborn intensive care units of hospitals. In some cases, after a newborn has been discharged from the unit, a neonatologist may provide short-term follow-up care on an outpatient basis. Your neonatologist will coordinate care with your baby’s pediatrician.
What to Expect at the Neonatologist
Neonatologists do most of their work inside neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs. The purpose of a NICU is to support underdeveloped or otherwise fragile children in their first few weeks of life.
Some of the most common reasons for admission into the NICU are:
- Premature birth
- Sepsis – a life-threatening complication of infection
- Chorioamnionitis – a bacterial infection that affects membranes around the baby
- Hypoglycemia — low blood sugar
- Respiratory distress syndrome — breathing trouble that can affect newborns
Babies in the NICU get 24-hour care from a team of experts. Your baby will be in an incubator, a bed that keeps them warm. They may need equipment like a ventilator, tubes on their nose that help them breathe, or an intravenous (IV) line (a needle in a vein) to give them fluids and medicine. If they can’t eat on their own, they could also have a feeding tube that goes in their mouth or nose and down their throat to their stomach. The amount and type of equipment will depend on just how much support your baby needs.
How long your baby stays in the NICU depends on their condition and how well they respond to treatment. The neonatologist will keep an eye on this and help decide when your baby is ready to leave the NICU.
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