Thursday, November 6, 2014

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Levels and Today's Social Media Challenge

Did you know that there are different levels of Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs)? 

I didn't have much time to research NICUs prior to the birth of my preemie. When I was pregnant, I was unexpectedly hospitalized at 25 weeks gestation. Hospitalization allowed me to carry our baby until 28 weeks gestation. 

Luckily, my hospital had a Level IIIB NICU and was also affiliated with a Level IV NICU. We were told that my preemie would be transferred to the Level IV NICU if a higher level of care was needed.

My preemie spent 67 long and challenging days in the Level IIIB NICU. We were lucky. She never required a transfer to a higher level of care. 

Our NICU journey was a roller coaster ride with a lot of ups, downs, twists, and turns. We were thrilled when the doctors and nurses said she was ready to come home!

NICU Facts

Just like snowflakes, not all NICUs are the same. In fact, there appears to be no uniform national definition for the various levels of NICU care across the nation.  

NICU levels appear to vary by state. Some states have defined three levels of NICU care; other states have defined higher levels of care.

Some NICUs are able to take care of extremely small and sick premature babies. Many of these NICUs are able to conduct surgeries on preemies. Other hospitals are not equipped to handle these types of premature babies and must transfer them to other facilities, when appropriate. 

Below is my general understanding of the different types of NICU Levels, based on various readings. Given the substantial variation among the states when it comes to a definition, please be sure to check with your state and hospital to get a better understanding of NICUs in your area and the services these facilities provide.

Level I

Level I nurseries offer basic newborn care and are typically ae to care for healthy, full-term babies. These NICUs care for babies born 35 weeks to 37 weeks gestation. The facilities also stabilize babies born before 35 weeks gestation or who are sick to get them ready to transfer to a facility that provides more advanced medical care.

Level II

Level II NICUs are typically able to care for babies born at or greater than 32 weeks gestation or who weigh 1,500 grams or more at birth with medical conditions that are not expected to require immediate subspecialty-level services.

Level III

Level III NICUs are typically able care for babies who are born at less than 32 weeks gestation, weigh less than 1,500 grams at birth, or have medical or surgical conditions that warrant such care. These facilities make pediatric medical subspecialists (such as neonatologists, neonatal nurses, respiratory therapists, maternal-fetal medicine physicians, and other personnel) and other pediatric surgical specialists continually available. Level III NICUs have equipment to provide life support for as long as necessary.

Level IV

Level IV NICUs provide the highest level of care. These NICUS are located in a hospital that make pediatric medical and pediatric surgical specialty consultants continuously available 24 hours a day. These facilities can provide surgical repair of complex congenital or acquired conditions. Level IV NICU often facilitate patient transport.

Resources about NICU Levels

November 4 Challenge

Today's challenge is to post something on one or more of your social media networks (such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram) which answers the following question:  Did your baby spend time in a NICU?  If so, how long?

Here is my challenge post for my social media networks:

NICUs provide premature babies and babies with other medical conditions with special medical care. I'm thankful for the doctors and nurses who cared for my preemie, Emily, during her 67-day stay in a Level IIIB NICU. #preemieblessings14

I'd love for you to participate in this challenge, which will help increase awareness about prematurity. Please feel free to use the above note as a template. Obviously, you'll want to customize the second sentence to fit your personal needs. You may also need to tweak or shorten the number of characters used on social media networks, such as Twitter. 

In the event that you have a preemie who did not require a NICU stay, this message can easily be modified to say something like:

NICUs provide premature babies and babies with other medical conditions with special medical care. Although my preemie did not require a NICU care, I'm thankful for the doctors and nurses who provide medical attention to preemies who need it. #preemieblessings14

Please use the hashtag #preemieblessings14 so that I can follow your great advocacy work. Comments on this blog post are also welcome!

Thank you for reading the Preemie Blessings blog and for your efforts to increase awareness about prematurity!

If you liked what you read today, and don't want to miss future tidbits, challenges, and interviews with preemie parents during Prematurity Awareness Month, then don't forget to follow me:  Email Subscription |Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+


  1. aren't we lucky to have such great medical care?

  2. I didn't know the different levels! My daughter spent 3 days in a level II unit. She was full term (born on her due date, actually!) but had difficulty breathing. The hospital didn't call it a "NICU". So I assumed it was either a NICU, or it wasn't. Now I know!

    Katie @ Cup of Tea

  3. Hmmmm I am not sure if my previous comment registered. But as what I mentioned there, this post has has helped me understand about NICU. I have friends who are nurses and works in that area. Will be able to relate with them now :) Thanks for sharing!

  4. It wasn't an easy search to see what NICU levels there are in Ventura County but I found a level 3 at Community Memorial. On their link it had this also: Parent Support Groups: support groups are available for parents of NICU infants to discuss issues associated with having a baby in the NICU. I wonder how many NICUs offer parent support group opportunities?