What is a Neonatal Nurse?

A neonatal nurse, also known as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse, is a registered nurse (RN) who specializes in neonatal care, which involves working with infants born with medical problems requiring special medical care. It’s often been said that it takes someone caring and giving to become a nurse. That’s even more the case with neonatal nurses, who provide medical care to infants and emotional support to parents. Here is an overview of neonatal nurses, including what they do and how to become one.

What Are Neonatal Nurses?

A neonatal nurse is an RN who has additional training to work in neonatal or NICU departments of a hospital. Unlike RNs who work with many types of patients, neonatal nurses work with young infants and premature newborns. A neonatal nurse’s primary patients are premature or sick newborn babies in need of monitoring or medical care for days, weeks or even months after they’re born and until they’re ready to go home with their parents.

What Neonatal Nurses Do

Neonatal nurses work with infants who were either born too early or are at risk. An infant can be a full-term baby and still be in need of medical care due to injuries, serious illnesses or some life-threatening problem. Neonatal nurses hold the babies, monitor them and provide basic medical care to them.

Their work is not limited to just the babies because they also spend time comforting and educating the parents and family members on what’s going on with the infant. Some of their duties include:

  • Holding and comforting new babies
  • Changing diapers
  • Resuscitating newborn infants
  • Administering medications
  • Delivering and transporting babies and mothers

Although neonatal nurses most often work in hospitals and ICUs, they may also work in private clinics, women’s clinics, and maternity wards or as home healthcare nurses.

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How to Become a Neonatal Nurse

Becoming a neonatal nurse requires education, training, commitment and a real desire to work with and help infant babies. A neonatal nurse must first become an RN, which can be accomplished by completing an approved nursing program. These can be two-year associate degree programs or four-year bachelor’s degree programs.

Once the student has completed the nursing program, he or she must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), which is a computer-based exam administered through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. After passing the exam, the candidate can apply for licensing through his or her state board of nursing.

To work as a neonatal nurse, the registered nurse must gain experience working in a hospital’s pediatric department or NICU. Nurse.org states that RNs should get at least two years of experience working in the following areas:

  • Maternal-Child Nursing
  • Well-Baby Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Labor and Delivery Nursing

An RN must have at least two years of experience working in one of those areas before he or she can take the neonatal certification exam. While neonatal certification is not a requirement to work as a neonatal nurse, it’s highly recommended. The neonatal nurse, however, is required to have Neonatal Resuscitation Program certification, according to NursingLicense.org. Neonatal nurses may also obtain the following certifications:

  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing
  • Critical Care Neonatal Nursing
  • Low Risk Neonatal Nursing
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing
  • Electronic Fetal Monitoring
  • Neonatal Pediatric Transport
  • Basic Life Support
  • Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support

Neonatal nurses are a special kind of nurse because they are part of a team that often helps keep infants alive and well. Making the decision to become a neonatal nurse puts a candidate in a career that’s rewarding, challenging and constantly in demand.