Decoding NICU: Is it Really Critical Care?

Welcome to the neonatal intensive care unit, where premature babies are given a fighting chance at life. At first glance, this place might seem like the setting of a sci-fi movie, filled with beeping monitors and tiny humans hooked up to machines that beep incessantly. But as we take a closer look at what really goes on in NICUs around the world, you'll start to wonder - is it REALLY critical care? Let's find out!

Decoding NICU: Is it Really Critical Care?

What is NICU?

Before we dive any deeper into whether or not NICU is critical care or not, let's define what exactly it is. In simple terms, a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) provides specialized medical treatment for newborns who require extra attention due to being ill, born prematurely or experiencing other health issues.

Who Needs NICU

Babies who need immediate medical assistance after delivery may spend their first few hours in the NICU until they're stabilized and able to move on with regular hospital routine procedures.

The Setup

Walking into an average-NIC room immediately sets off your alarm bells; tubes sticking out of babies' nostrils and mouths with various portholes going into their bellies/mouths/bottoms/tiny veins totally gives the vibe 'this-is-where-you-run-if-you-do-not-want-to-meet-a-pediatric-nurse-with-an-unfortunate-trimline-haircut'. The name-intensive-care-containers does nothing to help put everyone + everything at ease either.


As we behold these noisy surroundings : enter stage right; ventilators! These amazing devices assist infant breathing when nasal cannulas fail during chubbier ICU days:

  • Oxygen therapy typically used for children who cannot breathe well enough on their own
  • CPAP/BiPAP machine helps push oxygen through little airways for infants whose lungs are still developing.

What You Need to Know

If you're in the process of learning more about these machines, it's important to note that not every baby who ends up in NICU will need them. There are several treatment options available that can be used depending on the baby's individual case and needs.

ABC’s: Line Dancing (Arterial Access/ Blood sugar checks/ Central Lines)

One thing that sets NICUs apart from regular nurseries is the abundance of head-to-doctor accoutrements stacked neatly around a newborn's crib. A healthcare provider may administer medications by directly injecting them into tubes placed down major blood vessels or instilling IVs directly through veins using lumens; all while checking vital stats like their sugar levels with active precision.

This isn't just your average pin-prick type test either. While experiencing a stressful day those little toes have access lines dug through fat to gain central line access so as medication delivery processes smoothly continue without impacting tiny hands! With all this 'line dancing', each administered drug stays close enough for comfort and quick reach should commotion erratically start-up during otherwise low moments.

It is pretty intense stuff!

Teamwork Makes Dream Work

While neonatologists and pediatric nurses specialize in providing intensive care for premature babies, they don't work alone...far from it actually:

  • Respiratory therapists
  • Neonatal nurse practitioners
  • Physical therapists
  • Social workers who provide support services such as counseling sessions and family advocacy.

Arguments Against NICU Being Critical Care

Despite how high-tech it looks when you walk-in at first glance some people still question whether or not caring for sick babies in an incubator qualifies as genuine critical care - here were my thoughts:

The Bedside Activities Appeared Passive Enough For Everyone Involved:

Even though sick premies lay helpless inside glass boxes surrounded by complex hygiene suites there is something extremely passive about bedside activities that accompany these situations, such as:

  • Swaddling
  • Feeding through tubes
  • Temperature strips for optimum growth conditions.

Now I don't know if it's just me but when comparing NICU to cardiac care units, it seems the former has a lot more "standing around and waiting" involved before being deemed as genuinely intense-care moments.


All in all, is owning this opinion worth standing with confidence? The resounding answer is no. With every deep breath taken by a tube-assisted infant comes a momentous sigh of relief tinged with gratitude that only healthcare providers understand deeply.

NICU might not be your typical critical care setup, but make no mistake - the level of precision and attention required to provide treatment for newborns who need extra help starting out in life cannot be underestimated. It may look like an alien world at first glance but upon further inspection one sees how amazing the entire functioning behind-the-scenes really is!

So hats off to those providing medical support in neonatal intensive care units across the globe! This may not always qualify as the explicit type of dangerous/terrifying/crazy medical practices often associated with other high-intensity medical settings.

But this setting definitely gets my vote.

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