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Taking Care of the Tiniest Patients: The Importance of Neonatology


By Stephen T. Higgins, M.D., Neonatologist, Crozer Health


People have different medical needs at every stage of their life. They’ll see a pediatrician as a child, graduate to a primary care practitioner as an adult, and then see a doctor who specializes in geriatric medicine later in life. Each of these doctors understands the unique needs and treatment options for the age group they treat.

Like these doctors, a neonatologist also has specialized training. They see the tiniest and most vulnerable patients of all – premature and ill newborn babies. They’ll treat these children during the first minutes and hours of their lives, and also work in tandem with pediatricians to develop long-term plans to help them thrive throughout their childhood.


Why Is Neonatology Important?

Babies typically spend nine months growing inside their mother’s wombs. During this time, their organs mature, and their bodies prepare to survive on their own in the outside world. When babies are born prematurely, their bodies may not be ready. Their heart, lungs, stomachs, and skin may need help and support to survive. A neonatologist provides the specialized care these newborns need.

In other cases, a newborn baby may have other medical needs a neonatologist can help with. Some babies are born with an illness or birth defect that requires special care. Neonatologists are trained to take care of these infants, and when needed will coordinate treatment with other specialists to ensure these newborns receive proper care.

Sometimes an expectant mother may have a medical condition herself, or will have a difficult delivery that requires a Caesarian section. In many of these cases, a neonatologist, a neonatal nurse practitioner or highly skilled neonatal physician assistant will provide care in the delivery room and address any problems that may compromise the health of the baby.


What to Expect If Your Child Needs a Neonatologist

You may know before you give birth that your child will need to be cared for by a neonatologist. But other times, it comes as a surprise. You may go into labor early or experience a problem during delivery that completely changes your plans.

Your baby will most likely receive treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), a special department at the hospital specifically designed to help premature or ill newborns. Your baby may be in an incubator, which helps to maintain the ideal environment for them to survive and thrive. If they need help with their breathing they may have air or oxygen supplied with nasal cannula, or nasal CPAP, or they may be connected to a ventilator that is used to assist the infant with breathing.


The Importance of the Family in Neonatology

When a newborn baby is receiving care in the NICU, the family will spend a lot of time at the hospital. Now is the time to reach out to offer them extra help. You can help a family or friend who has a child in the NICU by:

  • Offering to take care of the newborn’s siblings
  • Helping with household to-do lists, such as taking out the trash or walking the dog
  • Calling or texting to show your support

The newborns parents, family, friends, and the neonatologist can work together to ensure that our tiniest patients receive the healthiest possible start in life.

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