Understanding Neonatal Care and NICU Levels

When you have a NICU baby, learning all about the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and what NICU levels mean can help you feel more aware and in charge of your baby’s care.

What are the levels of NICU care available for my baby?

Level I – Basic Newborn Care

Level I nurseries, sometimes called a “Well Newborn Nursery,” provide care for healthy full-term babies or babies born close to their due date (usually 35 weeks or later). These nurseries offer routine care, including assessments, and are equipped to stabilize babies and get them ready for transport to facilities that provide higher levels of care if needed.

Level II – Special Newborn Care

Level II nurseries treat babies born greater than 32 weeks or those that are full-term and require close monitoring of problems that are expected to resolve soon. These facilities can treat babies with some medical difficulties due to prematurity, such as jaundice, trouble maintaining body temperature, or feeding issues.

Special Care (Level II) Nurseries are further broken down into Level 2A and Level 2B based on the type of respiratory support offered:


  • Level IIA: These nurseries do not provide any level of respiratory assistance.
  • Level IIB: These nurseries can provide some respiratory assistance (CPAP or mechanical ventilation) for short periods of time, usually less than 24 hours.
NICU levels, neonatal levels, hand to hold

Level III – Subspecialty Newborn Care

Level III nurseries care for the very tiny and very sick newborns. These units have a wide variety of staff available 24 hours a day and are equipped to provide continuous life support and critical medical and surgical care.

Level III nurseries can be further divided based on the facility’s capability to provide advanced care.

  • Level IIIA: These units care for babies born greater than 28 weeks’ gestation. Level IIIA nurseries offer mechanical ventilation and minor surgical procedures.
  • Level IIIB: Level IIIB nurseries provide comprehensive care for the youngest babies born at 28 weeks or fewer or birth weight of 1,000 grams or less. These units offer advanced ventilation and some surgeries that may require anesthesia.

Level IV – Regional NICU (sometimes called Level IIIC)

A Level IV NICU is the highest level of NICU care and is often a regional facility with on-site surgical capabilities for the most severe medical conditions. Level IV nurseries care for babies at the lowest age of viability or micro preemies. These units provide the most sophisticated respiratory support and offer a wide variety of neonatal surgeries.

This page was last modified on Oct 19, 2023 @ 4:05 pm. If you see any information that needs to be updated or corrected, please contact info@handtohold.org.