6 Reasons Your Baby Needs a Primary NICU Nurse

May 7, 2018
Male nurse holds baby in NICU

Photo credit Olesia Bilkei

Are you a parent of a new baby that is likely to be in the NICU for a month or longer? Are you feeling helpless on how to support your son or daughter during their hour of greatest need? If your answers to the above questions are “yes,” then getting a primary NICU nurse may be one of the best things you can do for your baby during their hospitalization.

What is a Primary NICU Nurse?

A primary nurse will only work on your baby’s bedside when they are on duty. At most NICUs, this is a voluntary relationship. That means two things: 1) you will need to ask the nurse to be your child’s primary, and 2) that nurse will need to formalize the relationship by signing up.

How can a Primary NICU Nurse help?

A primary nurse will be your trusted guide throughout your family’s NICU journey. They will also build your confidence about taking care of your baby after discharge. Below are six benefits a primary relationship can bring to your family:

  1. Primaries offer your baby continuity of care that most NICUs will otherwise lack. In a recent study, continuity of care was associated with shorter stays and better patient outcomes.
  2. Primaries’ superior knowledge of your baby allows them to better advocate for appropriate medical decisions. Their enhanced empathy helps them to notice when your baby is “off.” And their standing as primaries will help to get the medical team to pay attention.
  3. Primaries help you navigate the NICU by alerting you to rights you may not have known you had. They also can facilitate better communications with medical staff.
  4. Primaries promote baby bonding. Nurses will teach you the most appropriate ways to touch and hold your baby. Kangaroo care and other bonding activities can improve your child’s health and brain development.
  5. Primaries provide your family with their unique version of phenomenal care. Some nurses enjoy educating family members on caregiving best practices. Others love using their creativity to create meaningful baby ‘firsts.’ Every nurse has their unique strengths which will delight you if you let them.
  6. Primaries will educate you on the best ways to take care of your premature or medically fragile baby after discharge. These nurses will give you the best tips and tricks from how to soothe a colicky baby to how to get your pesky home pulse oximeter to read correctly.

How many Primary NICU Nurses can my baby have?

You can have as many nurses as your NICU will allow! I recommend always being on the lookout for excellent candidates.

What if my NICU doesn’t allow Primary Nurses?

If your hospital does not allow primary nursing, I suggest respectfully requesting a change in policy to the nursing managers of your unit. Parents’ feedback has a lot more weight than you think.

(For extra credit, you can mention that researchers from a 2007 study found that implementing a relationship-based care model in a New Jersey NICU led to increased parent satisfaction on every indicator.)

Did your baby have a primary nurse during their NICU stay? If so, tell us what that relationship was like in the comments below. 

Read Next: A 3-Step Guide to Recruiting a Primary Nurse


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Davoodvand, S.; Abbaszadeh,A.; Ahmadi, F. (2016.) Patient advocacy from the clinical nurses’ viewpoint: a qualitative study. Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine. Volume 9, Issue 5.

Boundy, E. et al. (2016). Kangaroo Mother Care and Neonatal Outcomes: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. Vol 137, Issue 1.

Head, L. (2014.) The Effect of Kangaroo Care on Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Preterm Infants. Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing. Volume 28, Number 4.

Faber, K. (2013.) Relationship-Based Care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Creative Nursing, Volume 19, Issue 4.