Neonatal nursing involves the care for neonates, or infants, in the first 28 days of life. These infants may be healthy, or may also be in need of specialized care, with either chronic health problems or acute, life-threatening illnesses. Key roles in neonatal nursing are planning, assessing, supervising and ensuring that proper care is provided for neonatal patients. Neonatal nursing often takes place in the hospital, neonatal intensive care units, pediatric medical offices, clinics, and home environments.
Neonatal nursing in the hospital typically takes place in a nursery designated as either Level I, II, or III. While a Level I nursery is where healthy infants are cared for, Level II and III nursery infants may have been born prematurely or are facing an illness. This care can require supplemental oxygen, intravenous therapy, further maturation time before discharge or specialized feedings. The most acutely ill infants in Level III nurseries may need high technology care, such as surgery, incubators, or ventilators.
While about half of the neonatal patients that are acutely ill and in Level III nurseries are born prematurely, or before 37 weeks gestation, full-term infants may need care for a variety of conditions as well. These include birth defects, pneumonia, meningitis, perinatal asphyxia, hereditary or genetic disorders, generalized infections of the blood, or injuries suffered during the birth process or newborn periods. Also, chronically ill infants in need of neonatal nursing require special nursing care at home. Other roles important to neonatal nursing include research, consultation, and education of families and staff.
Neonatal nursing is a fairly new specialty in comparison to other nursing such as adult care, and has been around only since the 1960’s, when neonatal intensive care units were first established. The field has also been recently in need of more trained professionals, so there are many career opportunities available.
If you want to start a career in neonatal nursing, you need a nursing degree. Consider an online LPN to BSN degree or an online RN to BSN degree if you’re already a nurse. Otherwise, compare these programs from the University of Phoenix:
» Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
» Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)