Neonatal Nursing: What You Need to Know

Nursing Careers

What is a Neonatal Nurse?

Neonatal nurses are registered nurses who provide round-the-clock care for vulnerable newborns. Neonatal nurses make a difference every day by helping high-risk, critically ill, or premature babies, while also supporting parents and other family members.

Neonatal nurses care for preterm infants or those experiencing serious issues such as birth defects, cardiac malformations, and infections. While the neonatal period only encompasses the first month of life, newborn babies may stay in neonatal care for months before they are healthy enough to go home. Although not common, a neonatal nurse may work with children up to 24 months of age.

Where a Neonatal Nurse Works

Most neonatal nurses work in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit or NICU. A neonatal nurse may also attend the deliveries of particularly low-birth-weight and premature infants in the hospital. Some neonatal nurses provide follow-up care in outpatient centers, physicians’ offices, or in family homes. Other neonatal nurses help to care for infants as they are transported by air or ground vehicles to appropriate healthcare facilities.

baby with nurse in the background

Neonatal Nurse Duties

As a neonatal nurse, you’ll work with other medical professionals to provide highly technical care for premature or seriously ill newborns as well as infants recovering from diverse illnesses and operations.

As a NICU nurse, you may administer medications and nutrients, monitor vital signs, and set up and check ventilators and incubators. You must be cautious and dexterous as you provide hands-on patient care to tiny and fragile newborn infants, doing everything from changing diapers to working with very small instruments to resuscitating infants after birth.

NICU nurses also need to be good communicators. Part of the job is comforting and educating families during emotional and difficult situations, keeping them updated on changes for the better or worse, answering questions, and teaching them how to care for their newborn. This work can be both emotionally draining and incredibly rewarding.

NICU work is often fast-paced, with little margin for error. In emergencies and setbacks, you must act quickly, while remaining calm, clear-headed, and observant. In all cases, premature and sick babies require constant attention and around-the-clock care. Small changes could signal serious problems. As such, a NICU nurse may regularly work long shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays, although some hospitals offer flexible options.

Neonatal Nurse Requirements

The requirements for working as a neonatal nurse vary by employer. At a minimum, you’ll need to be a registered nurse with Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) certification. If you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), you’ll likely experience greater career flexibility and opportunities for advancement than those with a diploma or associate degree.

If you are passionate about working in neonatal intensive care, a number of NICUs offer residencies and other training opportunities for new nurses. Some neonatal intensive care units, however, prefer nurses who already have experience working with infants in pediatrics, labor and delivery, or a low-risk newborn nursery. If you don’t find a position as a NICU nurse right away, you may be able to transition into neonatal nursing after gaining experience in another area.

Eventually, a neonatal nurse may choose to pursue certification to validate their skills and prepare for advancing into higher-level positions. Neonatal nurse certification options include:

Both certifications require at least two years of clinical experience with neonatal patients.

Get Started on the Path to Becoming a Neonatal Nurse

At Arizona College, you can earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in just three years, so that you can get on your way to sitting for your NCLEX-RN exam in less time than traditional four-year schools. Once you become an RN, you can start pursuing your goal of becoming a neonatal NICU nurse! Request information to learn more about our BSN nursing program offered in Tempe, Las Vegas, and Dallas today.

Information in this blog post is accurate as of November 1, 2018.