Neonatologists are doctors who provide care for newborn babies who need specialized medical help. These babies may be premature, sick, need surgery, or have injuries from birth. Neonatologists work in hospitals in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, where they have access to special equipment sized to fit very small babies. Although neonatologists mostly see patients after birth, they may occasionally attend deliveries. In some cases where a problem is diagnosed during pregnancy, a neonatologist may also consult with the OBGYN or perinatologist (high-risk obstetrician).
Many of the problems that neonatologists treat are due to prematurity, where an infant is born before 37 weeks gestation. When infants are born prematurely, their bodies are often not developed enough to be able to cope with the world apart from their mother. Premature infants sometimes struggle with issues such as:
Breathing and lung problems, including apnea
Jaundice, a condition that causes yellowing of the skin (jaundice is common in newborns but can sometimes lead to serious complications)
An underdeveloped digestive system, which poses a nutritional challenge
An underdeveloped neurological system, which can lead to problems breathing, sucking, and swallowing
Full-term infants also sometimes require the care of a neonatologist. Problems that might affect a full-term newborn include, among others:
Asphyxia, or a lack of oxygen, during birth
Congenital birth abnormalities
Infections such as pneumonia or meningitis
Hyperbilirubinemia, or severe jaundice
Injuries obtained during the birth process
Bradycardia, or an unusually slow heartbeat
Neonatologists spend time with their tiny patients and their families, diagnose and treat any problems, and manage their daily care. They also ensure newborn babies receive adequate nutrition, which is a critical factor in their healing and growth. Having a baby in the NICU can be a scary time for families. Neonatologists have the knowledge and experience in newborn care to provide the best for your baby.