special care baby unit

Special Care Baby Unit

Most maternity hospitals have a special care baby unit – SBCU. This is a ward where unwell babies or those needing close supervision, such as a premature baby, are nursed. Paediatricians have different ideas about which babies require the special observation of the units.

In some hospitals, babies born by forceps or Caesarean section, and those who are a little slow to breathe after birth, are routinely admitted to the special care unit the first day of their life. Nearly all these babies turn out to be perfectly normal and, happily, this routine practice is on the way out. If your baby is admitted to the special care baby unit for any reason, remember that he needs you around.

However skilled doctors and nurses are, they cannot take over your special role of interacting with your baby. You can, in fact, do much to foster a good relationship with your baby while he is in the special care baby unit. There is rarely any need for a baby to be whisked away from his mother straight after birth. So, before he is transferred to the unit, make sure that you have had the opportunity to see, touch and special care baby unithold him. (This is not always possible if a mother has been given a general anaesthetic and is still asleep when the baby is transferred.)

Remember to ask the staff precisely where the unit is within the hospital. You will find out later, of course, when you go to visit baby but, in the meantime, it is no fun lying there wondering where your baby is. You will feel happier if you know on what floor the unit is and how far it is from your own ward. Mothers naturally like to know exactly where their child is at any time. This is a need that usually remains with mothers even when their children have become adults!

Types of Special Care Baby Unit

Some special care baby units have bedrooms where mothers can sleep so that they need never be far away from their baby. It is a good idea to ask the staff if there is such a room. One of the most important periods of contact with a newborn baby is during feeding times. For this reason you should try to make an arrangement with the staff about feeding. If your baby has no special feeding problem you give him his feeds. If you are not able to stay alongside the actual unit, remember to let the staff know when you are coming to see your baby so that they can leave the feed to you. It is disappointing to arrive at the unit all prepared to feed your baby, only to find him fast asleep having just been fed by someone else.

Some babies who need special care cannot be relied upon to feed by demand. If you are bottle feeding you will probably be advised about the amount of milk to offer your baby. When your baby has taken the required amount it does not mean that you have to put him straight back in to his cot. If your contact with him is limited to feed times, he will enjoy staying with you a little longer and will feel reassured if he is allowed to fall asleep in your arms. If deprived of this extended contact, he will feel rather like the way we feel when the waiter puts the chairs on the tables just when we are relaxing after a meal!

Some babies who cannot suck adequately at first need to be fed through a small tube that is passed through the nose or mouth into the stomach. If your baby is being nursed in a cot you should pick him up and cuddle him from time to time so that he does not miss out on the physical contact he would normally receive at feed times. Once the tube is in position it does not irritate the baby in any way and causes no discomfort. If you are planning to breastfeed your baby after he has left the special unit, you can still supply him with breast milk by expressing your breast.

If your baby is unduly small, or needs close observation for some other reason, he may be nursed in an incubator instead of a cot. Many mothers feel isolated from their babies in this situation and, at first, tend to stand away from the incubator straining to catch a glimpse of baby. It is much better to sit on a chair beside the incubator because then it is easier for you to put your face at the same level as your baby’s so that he can see you. There is no reason why, having washed your hands, you should not put your hands inside the portholes of the incubator and touch your baby. This is positively encouraged by many units but, sometimes, because of work pressures, the staff may not approach you about this and you may need to remind them about your wishes.

Arrangements for family visiting vary in different units, but nearly all allow free access at any time to fathers. If you have older children ask the staff about the visiting arrangements for them. Unfortunately, in many hospitals children are not allowed into the special care baby unit. You can, however, usually arrange for them to get a view of their new baby brother or sister if you make your wishes known to the staff.