Special care baby unit FAQs

Royal Free special care baby unit: your questions answered

Here are some common questions and answers about neonatal care at the Royal Free special care baby unit:

Q. Which babies are admitted to the special care baby unit?

Most babies admitted to the special care baby unit are premature babies (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy), have a low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds), or have a medical condition that requires specialist care. 

Twins, triplets, and other multiple births are often admitted to the unit as they tend to be born earlier and are smaller than babies born on their own.

Babies with more serious medical conditions, such as heart problems, infections or birth defects are also cared for on the unit and are treated based on need.

Q. What causes jaundice in newborn babies?

Jaundice is the yellow colour seen in the skin of many newborn infants. It happens when a chemical called bilirubin builds up in the baby’s blood, due to immaturity of the liver. It can occur in any baby regardless of ethnic background.

Q. Should I be worried if my baby has jaundice?

Most newborn babies develop jaundice to some degree in the first few days. Usually it is not serious and does not cause any harm. In most cases, jaundice in babies goes away after a week or two without any treatment.

In very rare cases, more serious problems can be followed-up based on need.

Q. How are harmful levels of jaundice in babies treated?

The need for jaundice treatment is determined by a simple blood test. The treatment, called phototherapy, takes place under special ultraviolet lights. It helps your baby to process the chemical that can cause the harmful effects of jaundice (bilirubin).

Q. Is my baby at risk of catching MRSA?

Following our strict infection control procedures at the Royal Free special care baby unit reduces the chance of your baby picking up any bacteria, including MRSA, which can be carried on the hands of the people caring for them.

Most babies who are found to have MRSA do not suffer any illness as a result but extremely premature babies and those requiring intensive care may become ill as a result of MRSA and will be treated accordingly in these very rare cases.

Q. What is hypoglycaemia?

A baby may have low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) if it had a low birth weight, was a premature baby, if the mother received large amounts of intravenous glucose during labour, or if the mother is diabetic or had a difficult delivery.

Blood glucose is the main source of food for your premature baby's brain. Persistent or dangerous hypoglycaemia levels, if left untreated, can result in seizures and affect the brain. Hypoglycaemia is diagnosed through a simple blood test.

A fall in blood glucose is common in the hours following birth. Most babies recover themselves without intervention but some babies have difficulty with this. Treatment involves giving a baby ample nourishment – including early breastfeeding.

Q. When will my baby have immunisations?

It is important that all babies have their immunisations at the correct age, even if they are still in hospital. 

The baby immunisations programme covers all stages of development (regardless of how many weeks old they were at birth) and begins at eight weeks from your baby’s date of birth.

Q. What is Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a breathing problem that affects babies born about 6 weeks or more before their due dates. 

Their lungs are not developed enough to make surfactant - a liquid that coats the inside of the lungs and keeps them open so that the baby can breathe in air once they are born.

Most infants who develop respiratory distress syndrome show signs of breathing problems immediately or within a few hours of birth and can be identified and treated.

Q. Why has my baby been admitted to the Royal Free special care baby unit with weight loss and dehydration?

In newborn infants dehydration primarily results from an inadequate amount of fluid intake and is often associated with weight loss. 

The risk of dehydration is increased if the baby does not latch properly during breast feeding or the baby has a weak suckling ability.