You can explore your interest in neonatal nursing by reading books on careers in nursing; by talking with high school guidance counselors and neonatal nurses; and by visiting hospitals to observe a health care setting and talk with hospital personnel. Visit the Web sites of professional associations such as the National Association of Neonatal Nurses and the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses.
Neonatal nurses care for newborn babies in hospitals. Depending on the size of the hospital, their duties may vary. Some neonatal nurses may be in the delivery room and, as soon as the baby is born, they are responsible for cleaning up the baby, visually assessing it, and drawing blood by pricking the newborn's heel. This blood sample is sent to the laboratory, where a number of screening tests are performed as required by the state. These assessments help the staff and doctor determine if the baby is normal or needs additional testing, a special diet, or intensive care.
Babies who are born without complications are usually placed in a Level I nursery or in the mother's room with her. However, because of today's short hospital stays for mother and child, many hospitals no longer have Level I, or healthy baby nurseries. Neonatal or general staff nurses help the new mothers care for their newborns in their hospital rooms.
Level II is a special care nursery for babies who have been born prematurely or who may have an illness, disease, or birth defect. These babies are also cared for by a neonatal nurse, or a staff nurse with more advanced training in caring for newborns. These babies may need oxygen, intravenous therapies, special feedings, or because of underdevelopment, they may simply need more time to mature.
Specialized neonatal nurses or more advanced degree nurses care for babies placed in the Level III neonatal intensive care unit. This unit admits all babies who cannot be treated in either of the other two nurseries. These at-risk babies require high-tech care such as ventilators, incubators, or surgery. Level III units are generally found in larger hospitals or may be part of a children's hospital.