What is a Neonatal Nurse?

What is a Neonatal Nurse?A neonatal nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who has specialized in working with doctors and other healthcare professionals to provide care for newborn babies. As a relatively new specialty area starting in the 1960s, neonatal nursing refers to the medical care provided to young infants during the first 28 days of their lives. Since statistics now show that around 120,000 newborns have birth defects and one in every nine babies is born prematurely in the United States, there’s a rising demand for neonatal nurses to give these new lives a chance to grow. Below we’ve created a job description for neonatal nurses to help you determine whether this is the right nursing specialty area for your goals.

What Neonatal Nurses Do

Neonatal nurses are given the responsibility of providing comprehensive medical care for newborn babies who may be healthy or critically ill. Neonatal nurses create, implement, and evaluate healthcare plans for the hospital’s smallest patients for as long as required. On a typical workday, neonatal nurses will attend deliveries, measure infants, clean them, monitor their health, administer needed medications, change diapers, perform tests, and keep a record of vitals. Nurses in neonatal nursing use many modern medical technologies, including feeding pumps, incubators, ventilators, cardiac monitors, and phototherapy lamps to keep babies healthy. Neonatal nurses also offer important support to new families by educating parents about their baby’s condition and teaching them proper newborn care.

Where Neonatal Nurses Practice

Neonatal nurses often work in a Level I, Level II, or Level III nursery to meet the special health needs of newborns. Level I refers to nurseries for healthy babies who need basic care during their very short hospital stay. Level II is used to indicate intermediate care or special care nurseries where newborns may have been born prematurely or with an illness. Neonatal nurses in Level II usually need to provide supplemental oxygen, intravenous therapy, and specialized feedings to help these babies mature appropriately. Level III refers to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) where newborns need high-tech medical care due to being critically small for their age, premature, or sick. Most neonatal nurses will work long 12-hour shifts in these settings within general, maternity, or children’s hospitals.

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse

In order to successfully become a neonatal nurse, you’ll need to take one of three routes to become a registered nurse (RN) first. Though you can earn a diploma through hospital-based nursing programs or a two-year associate’s degree from a community college, it is advised that you earn a four-year bachelor’s degree for the best job prospects (also see: Top 10 Best Online RN to BSN Programs). Before stepping into the role of neonatal care in NICU units, you’ll likely need to find a staff nurse position in a newborn nursery to gain work experience caring for healthy babies. If you’re interested in advancing into the role of neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) for increased responsibility and independence, you’ll need a master’s degree before earning national certification.

Overall, neonatal nursing is a growing sub-specialty for highly skilled healthcare professionals who focus on delivering medical care for the profession’s youngest patients – newborn infants. Becoming a neonatal nurse is an admirable career goal in which you’ll receive the emotional reward of saving countless babies and helping them grow into healthy infants.