The Neonatologist and Other Doctors in the NICU

March 30, 2015

On March 30, National Doctors’ Day, physicians across the country are recognized for their service. As the wife of a surgeon, I thought I understood much about what doctors do. I certainly understood the years of training and sacrifices made by physicians, as well as their families, for the coveted M.D. degree. When my daughter was born too soon, at only 27 weeks gestation, I was quickly thrust into a different role. Even before I gave birth, the neonatologist came to talk to me. It was then that we began a relationship that would span our 79 day NICU stay.

IMG_0587Looking back, the neonatologist was one of the first doctors I saw before my daughter’s birth and one of the last faces I remember on the day we were discharged. When it became obvious that labor could not be stopped, the neonatologist came in to tell me what to expect, what they would do as soon as she was born, etc… She was in the room for delivery and cared for my daughter immediately. I remember her calm demeanor in the midst of the chaos. She also gave me a moment I will treasure forever. After my daughter was bagged and stable, she bundled her up and brought her over for me to hold for a short moment before they whisked her to the NICU. That moment was the only similarity I had with a normal birth.

After I was wheeled to a regular room, the neonatologist came in to update me on my daughter’s condition and what the next steps would be. Each morning from then on, for 79 days, I could expect to see the neo and hear about my daughter’s progress or plans for her care during morning rounds. Our NICU had a rotating schedule for neonatologists, so we would have the same person for a few weeks and then they would switch. We became close with each one.

The best way to form a bond with your baby’s neonatologist is communication. Try to be at morning rounds. Ask questions and speak up if you do not understand or agree with something. If you cannot be there, call and ask to speak with them. Every doctor I encountered was eager to communicate with parents. Work together to come up with solutions you can agree on. For example, at one point it was suggested that we might need to supplement with formula to increase weight gain, even though I was making tons of milk that was being fortified with human milk fortifier. I asked if there was another option, and we agreed on fortifying with safflower oil, and it worked like a charm.

Although the neonatologist will be your baby’s main physician, here are just some of the others that you may encounter in the NICU:

Cardiologist – deals with disorders of the heart, commonly PDA in preemies

Ophthalmologist –treats disorders of the eyes, commonly ROP in preemies

Gastroenterologist – conditions of the digestive system, NEC in preemies

Neurologist – conditions of the brain, such as IVH in preemies

Our neonatologist may never fully understand the love and appreciation we have for her effort and expertise in making sure that our daughter received the best possible treatment. We have a happy, healthy toddler now, and I am thankful everyday for the physicians who had the knowledge to make decisions that gave her the best possible start in life.

What types of doctors did you encounter in the NICU? Share a thank you for a doctor who was special to your family.