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The 4 Levels of a NICU: Finding the Right One For Your Baby

Not all neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are able to treat all babies who require their care, and if you know you’re at risk for preterm delivery or your baby is likely to require a hospital stay, it’s critical you understand these distinctions so you can make an informed decision about where to deliver your baby. In the United States, there are typically 4 levels of NICU care.

The 4 Levels of a NICU: Finding the Right One For Your Baby

Level 1 NICU

This is also called a well newborn nursery and is typically best suited for babies who are born after 35 weeks. These babies are stable and require regular nursery care.

Level 2 NICU

Also known as a special care nursery, this is best suited for babies born after 32 weeks and who need short term breathing or feeding support. 

Level 3 NICU

This intensive care unit is designed for babies born before 32 weeks, who are critically ill, and/or require life-saving respiratory support. These NICUs are not usually able to perform neonatal surgeries.

Level 4 NICU

A level 4 designation means this NICU is suited for babies who require intensive support like in a level 3 NICU but also may need access to a neonatal surgical team.

How to find out what NICU is best for you and your baby

During your pregnancy, call the hospital where you have planned to deliver the baby, and ask them what their NICU level designation is. Talk to your OB and MFM about whether that NICU designation will be appropriate given what you know about your baby’s health risks at the time of delivery. We recommend you have this conversation multiple times throughout your pregnancy, as the decision may change based on how your pregnancy progresses.

If you determine that your baby will need more support than your NICU will provide, find out when and how they will transport you and/or your baby after birth to a different hospital. We encourage you to ask your OB or MFM if transportation to a different hospital is possible before delivery so you and your baby do not have to be in different locations immediately after birth.

The more you know before your delivery, the better prepared you will be, the more choices you will have, and the more empowered you will feel to advocate for your baby whenever and wherever they are born. 

Preparing for a NICU stay is an element of the Ruvelle Experience for parents like you who want to stay on top of your (and your baby’s) health care plan.

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