Neo-Natal Intensive Care Units (NICU) FAQs and Centers on Long Island

After months of waiting, the moment arrives: labor has begun. Or perhaps a c-section date has been chosen, and parents excitedly pack their car knowing their child will be born within hours. They listen for a baby’s cry and the joyful announcement of “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” Few couples expect to hear, “We have to take the baby to the NICU.” Nothing can truly prepare parents for this moment, but finding out basic information in advance can help alleviate some of the fear. We’ve put together FAQs and a list of hospitals with Neo-Natal Intensive Care Units (NICU).

No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible.” ~George Chakiris

PHOTO GALLERY: Before (top photos) and After (bottom photos) pictures of four Long Island NICU babies who are growing up to be happy and healthy kids.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is NICU?

NICU stands for Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit. Pre-term and full-term babies born with a range of health problems may spend time in the NICU. Not all NICUs are the same. In New York State, there are four levels: 1, 2, 3 and the Regional Perinatal Center.

A Level 1 site will not have a NICU; they serve low-risk mothers and babies only. A hospital with a Level 2 NICU is typically care for babies after 32 weeks of pregnancy, babies that need a round of antibiotics, or those whose vital signs need to be closely monitored. A Level 3 NICU can care for babies from 28 weeks gestation (and sometimes less). They are capable of providing respiratory support for babies that have trouble breathing and giving TPN (total parental nutrition) to babies unable to ingest breastmilk or formula. A host of medications are available, and in some cases, surgery. Babies requiring CAT scans or MRIs can do so as inpatients. The Regional Perinatal Center will handle any other issue that local hospitals cannot.

Where are the NICU hospital designations on Long Island?

Nassau County
Regional Perinatal Centers:

  • North Shore University Hospital (Manhasset)
  • Winthrop University Hospital (Mineola)
  • Long Island Jewish Medical Center (New Hyde Park)

Level 3 Perinatal Centers:

  • Mercy Medical Center (RVC)
  • Nassau University Medical Center (East Meadow)

Level 2 Perinatal Centers:

  • Plainview Hospital (Plainview)
  • South Nassau Communities Hospital (Oceanside)

Suffolk County
Regional Perinatal Centers:

  • University Hospital (Stony Brook)

Level 3 Perinatal Centers:

  • Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center (West Islip)

Level 2 Perinatal Centers:

  • Huntington Hospital (Huntington)
  • St. Catherine of Siena Hospital (Smithtown)
  • St. Charles Hospital (Port Jefferson)
  • Southside Hospital (Bay Shore)

Level 1 Perinatal Centers:

  • Peconic Bay Medical Center (Riverhead)
  • Southampton Hospital (Southampton)

My baby has been admitted to the NICU. What can I expect to see and hear?

Depending on the reason for their admission, babies will receive different kinds of services. The language of the NICU is filled with acronyms and unfamiliar terms.

  • The baby will likely be hooked up to “leads.” These wires may look alarming, but they allow the hospital staff to monitor their vital signs: breathing rates and pattern, heart rate, and levels of oxygen in the blood. The wires are taped to baby’s abdomen with stickers or may be on their feet.
  • A PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) may be necessary to deliver medication and/or fluids. A PICC line is like an IV but intended for longer use.
  • Some babies need assistance breathing, and there are a few different ways to get them the air they need. CPAP tubes help to keep airways open and remind babies to breathe. Nasal cannulas deliver warm air with extra concentrations of oxygen for babies that need additional assistance. A ventilator is used if babies cannot breathe on their own.
  • Feeding tubes may be used if the baby is unable to breastfeed or bottle-feed. The tubes go up their noses and deliver food directly into their stomachs.
  • A baby with jaundice may need to undergo phototherapy. The baby will spend time under special lights that help the body break down bilirubin (the chemical that causes jaundice).
  • Preemies are typically placed in incubators so they stay warm because very small babies may have trouble maintaining their body temperature.

What are the parents’ roles in the NICU?

Parents become part of the baby’s team of caretakers. Parents will be asked to take part in basic tasks: change diapers, skin-to-skin contact, feedings, etc. When doctors complete their rounds, parents can be on hand to discuss the treatment plan. There are no visiting hours for parents. Mom or Dad can be in the baby’s room anytime of the day or night and can stay for as long as they’d like. If parents have to leave, they can be apprised of the baby’s condition via phone. If they choose to stay for long periods of time, there are places to nap, snack or use the bathroom.

Can I breastfeed in the NICU?

Yes. A breast pump will probably be necessary. If a baby is admitted to the NICU immediately after birth, the mother will want to contact a nurse about getting a breast pump in her postpartum room. Hospital pumps are more powerful and designed to build and maintain breastmilk supply. A lactation consultant or nurse should provide instructions on how to use the pump and store milk.

Pumping regularly with a hospital-grade pump will help maintain a mom’s milk supply until the baby is discharged. If the mother is discharged before the child, she can rent a hospital grade pump through a private lactation consultant for the duration of the baby’s stay. Fees vary depending on the mothers’ needs, but under the new healthcare laws, many pump rentals can be covered by insurance. The mother should ask the NICU staff about the baby’s feeding schedule, and try to pump at similar times that the baby will be fed. She can bring the expressed milk into the NICU for immediate use or instruct the nurses to refrigerate or freeze it for later use.

If the baby is physically able, it is recommended that the mother attempt to get the baby to latch. If a mother is experiencing difficulties, she can ask to meet with the NICU lactation consultant. Many NICUs have their own lactation consultants on staff. Their services are free of charge.

I feel so alone. Is there anyone I can talk to?

NICU parents can experience a roller coaster of emotions: denial, anger, fear, hope… and these can all happen in the same hour. Many hospital NICUs offer a social worker and/or support groups for parents. If feelings of depression do not subside and affect day-to-day living, parents should speak to a healthcare professional.

What happens once my baby is discharged?

The actual discharge is similar to babies leaving the regular nursery. Paperwork for the baby’s birth certificate must be completed (if not done already). Parents are expected to bring their car seat into the baby’s room. The NICU staff may recommend regular follow up visits with various specialists for months or even years after the discharge. An evaluation from Early Intervention may also be recommended.

A trip to the NICU is relatively common. Around 10% of babies born in the United States will be admitted. Whether the baby’s stay is measured in hours or months, it is a scary experience. However, thanks to dedicated and knowledgeable NICU staff, most babies leave the hospital and go on to lead normal, healthy lives.

I would like to dedicate this article to Arielle, my brave little lion and to the amazing staff at Stony Brook University Hospital NICU. I can never thank you enough.

By Rachel Minkowsky

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