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Section 1 - Introduction

Reasons why your baby may be admitted to the neonatal unit

Over 60,000 babies are born in Ireland each year throughout the country’s 19 maternity units.  Approximately 10% of these babies are admitted to neonatal units following their birth.  Approximately 4,000 babies or 7% of all babies are born preterm.

Babies are admitted to the neonatal unit for a number of reasons.  These include preterm birth and term babies who are unwell or need medical or surgical investigations or treatments.

Preterm birth

If your baby is born before 35 weeks gestation, they will usually be admitted to the neonatal unit.

Preterm birth occurs for various reasons.

Multiple births (e.g. twins, triplets and higher order multiples) are one of the more common causes.  About 50% of twins are born preterm.  The staff, where possible, will keep your babies near each other.  However sometimes one baby may require a different level of care, e.g. one baby may be in the intensive care unit and your other baby may be in the special care baby unit.  It is also possible that one baby will be discharged home before the other.

Other causes of preterm birth include infection or if a baby is growing slowly – there are various reasons for this, e.g. pregnancy-related high blood pressure or problems with the placenta (after-birth). Sometimes the cause is not known.

The degree of prematurity matters.  Babies who are born preterm require a range of care that depends on the degree of prematurity and illness, e.g. babies born more preterm tend to require a more intensive level of neonatal care than those born later.

Term babies who need investigations or treatment

Most term babies do not need neonatal care, but some do.  When term babies are admitted to the neonatal unit, it may only be for observation.  If all is well and your baby is doing well, they can usually go back to you on the postnatal ward.

Some babies who are born at full term might need to spend more time in the neonatal unit. Some conditions that might mean that a baby who was born at term would need to come to the neonatal unit include rapid breathing after birth, known as transient tachypnoea of the newborn (TTN), jaundice requiring phototherapy, or possible infection needing intravenous antibiotics.

Less commonly, a baby may have a more serious problem, which requires investigation or a specific medical or surgical treatment, like encephalopathy, a heart condition or intestinal (bowel) problem.