Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

UnityPoint Health - Blank Children's Hospital

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

The Variety Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Blank Children's Hospital is dedicated to providing high-quality, family-centered care for premature and critically-ill newborns. We offer private rooms that can accommodate 44 beds and are a Regional Level IIIB unit offering the latest in technology.

Family-Centered Care

We recognize the family as a constant participant in the care of each baby as they progress through their stay. We acknowledge the medical benefit of the love that families provide for their baby. We encourage and support families in participating in the daily care of their baby, recognizing the differences in skill each family member brings to the care of their child. Our clinical team, working with families, identify and provide educational support and resources to ensure continual growth and understanding of the health and developmental issues related to their baby.

Benefits of private-room care

  • Ability to customize baby's environment to best support their level of development.
  • Regulation of light and sound levels to support baby's needs and maximize development.
  • Supports family involvement with baby's care.
  • Privacy for families as they bond with their new baby.
  • Private sleeping sofas in each room for parents to stay the night.
  • Close monitoring of babies by nurses and doctors.


Take a Tour of the Blank Children's Hospital NICU

Neonatology Care Team

The neonatology team at Blank Children's Hospital is committed to ensuring your baby receives comprehensive, state-of-the-art, family-centered care around the clock. Our team is made up of experienced professionals, many of whom have worked together for years. The team includes neonatologists, neonatal nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, respiratory therapists, occupational and physical therapists and other medical specialists.


Neonatologists are doctors who have specialty training in the care of premature and critically-ill newborns. The neonatologists are responsible and direct all care for the newborns and are available 24 hours a day.
Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNPs)
Neonatal nurse practitioners report to and collaborate with neonatologists, resident physicians and other medical specialists in the care of infants. The NNPs give medical orders, prescribe medications, perform procedures and make decisions about types of care to pursue based on urgent or emergency needs.
Residents are doctors who come to Blank Children's Hospital to receive training in pediatrics. They work closely with the attending neonatologists to care for the babies on the unit.
Registered Nurses
Experienced nurses who care for premature and critically-ill newborns at the bedside 24 hours per day. They provide high-quality nursing care with leading-edge technology and developmentally supportive care.
Neonatal Transport Team
The neonatal transport team provides specialized and expert care for ill infants. Our team of highly trained and experienced nurses work to stabilize the infant's condition prior to traveling while the nurse is in communication with the neonatologists. Ongoing communication is provided to the parents and referring facility until the family can be reunited with their infant.
Respiratory Therapists
The respiratory therapists provide a wide range of services, such as assessing and treating infants with compromised airways, ventilator management and surfactant and nitric oxide administration. Respiratory therapists also provide point of care testing for blood gas analysis.
Care Managers
The care managers help parents prepare for discharge from the hospital. They help plan for all home care needs and organize education for parents and families.
Social Workers
The role of the social worker is to support patients and their families throughout their NICU journey. The social work team visits with every NICU family, with the frequency of ongoing visits being determined by the family and the social worker.
Lactation Resources
The NICU supports the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide breast milk for the first year of life. Since most babies admitted to the NICU are unable to nurse, we provide mothers with support as they establish their milk supply for their infant. Learn more about Lactation Services.
Developmental Center Follow-up
The Blank Children's Developmental Center helps monitor the developmental needs of premature or critically-ill infants.

Parent Education

At Blank Children's Hospital, we are committed to each family and their babies. We strive to provide care that will promote the optimal growth and development of each baby. Throughout your time in the NICU, we encourage and support family involvement. Your care team will answer any questions and provide information about your child. As a family support team, we offer additional layers of support.

NICU Family Support

Care Managers

NICU care managers are registered nurses who also have previous experience as bedside nurses in the NICU. Each baby admitted to the NICU is assigned a care manager who will follow the baby and family throughout their stay. Care managers anticipate discharge needs and make arrangements such as home nursing, home medical equipment, specialized medications and specialty appointments.

The goal of the care manager is to prepare families for life after the NICU and make the transition home as seamless as possible. Care managers are available Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Hospital chaplains are available to provide spiritual and emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Child Life Specialists

Our Child Life specialists can offer suggestions on how to best involve your baby's siblings, so they feel important when they visit and have play materials. Child Life specialists can also help you support your baby's development in the NICU setting. 

  • Parents' Group gives families a chance to meet other families going through the same struggles. The Child Life specialist organizes this group to meet weekly. Crafts will be available to provide opportunities for parents to celebrate their new little ones. Watch for signage around the NICU or ask your Child Life specialist for more information.
  • The Story Bead Program is a way to document the journey your little one will take during their NICU stay. Beads are given to celebrate the progress your baby makes and to acknowledge the events that may have been difficult for your family. Participation begins with your family receiving a length of string and beads that spell out your baby's first name and a Blank Children's Hospital bead. After this, various beads representing specific treatments, procedures, and milestones will be given during your hospital stay.
    • This program is completely voluntary and free to families. A NICU Story Bead form will be provided to you upon admission. If you would like to participate in this program, please fill out the form with your room number and the correct spelling of your baby's name. The bead forms can be turned into the box labeled "Story Beads" at the NICU front desk. We hope the Story Bead Program can help you as a family to identify areas of your baby's care that you wish to be an active participant. You are the most important part of your baby's care team!
  • Blank Children's Littlest Bookworms. One way to bond with your baby while in the NICU is to read to him/her. A Child Life specialist will bring you a book for your family to keep each week. If you would like to borrow additional books to read to your baby, please ask a Child Life specialist and books can be provided.
  • Seasonal Celebrations. Some families feel like they lose track of time in the NICU and struggle to remember that life goes on outside of the hospital. Child Life specialsits help to recognize special days and find small ways for you to celebrate with your baby.  
Family Cart

The NICU Family Cart provides snacks, magazines and small comforts of home. Be on the lookout for the cart around the NICU.

  • The NICU Family Support Cart is sponsored by Average Everyday Miracles, a nonprofit group founded by three NICU moms who experienced lengthy NICU journeys and found comfort in connecting with other NICU parents.
SHINE Perinatal & Pediatric Palliative Care Program
Palliative care is a special kind of health care that aims to improve the quality of life in physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual ways. It can be provided at any stage of a serious illness and alongside curative treatment plans.
Social Workers

NICU parents are at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression based on multiple stressors they are experiencing in a NICU setting. The following are some of the services the social work team provides to NICU families:

  • Assistance with lodging arrangements
  • Information regarding state and federal programs
  • Community and hospital resources
  • Emotional support
  • Assessing parents for postpartum depression
  • Addressing issues relating to stress management
  • Developing positive coping strategies

The goal of the social work team is for families to feel empowered to advocate on their child's behalf throughout their NICU journey and ensure their transition home is a positive experience. The social work team is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Taking Care of Your Newborn

We want all parents to be able to take care of their newborn(s) during their NICU stay as much as possible. How much you can help depends on your newborn's condition. Please discuss with your nurse the ways you can be involved with the care of your child(ren). This could be getting a temperature, changing the diaper, helping with a bath, or hand swaddling during care times.

Skin-to-Skin (Kangaroo Care)

Skin-to-skin, also known as kangaroo care, is very beneficial for your newborn(s) as well as for you. Skin-to-skin can be done by either parent. Some benefits of skin-to-skin include:

  • Improving heart and lung function for the baby
  • Stabilizing the baby's temperature and blood sugar
  • Comforting and bonding for the baby and parents
  • Helping milk production for the mother

Skin-to-skin can be performed by placing your newborn(s) directly on your chest with as much skin in contact with one another as possible. Please discuss with your nurse if holding your child(ren) skin-to-skin is possible.


Infant CPR and Baby Care for Fragile Infants classes are offered for free and taught by one of our NICU nurses. You can register for the classes at the NICU front desk. Please sign up at least one day in advance.

  • Infant CPR class: Offered Sundays at 4 p.m. and Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m.
  • Baby Care for Fragile Infants class: Offered Sundays, 4:30 to 6 p.m.     

Please contact the NICU front desk if you have any questions.


We encourage parents to stay in the room with their newborn(s) but also understand not all parents are able to do so. If you would like to room-in with your newborn(s), the couch has the ability to pull out to provide more room for you. Pillows, sheets and blankets are also available. Please ask your nurse if you would like assistance with preparing the couch to sleep on overnight or to take a nap during the day.

A mini refrigerator is located in each NICU room and is available for you to use to store expressed breast milk, food and drinks for yourself. If you have an item that is too big to fit in the refrigerator in your room, there is a full size refrigerator located in the family lounge for you to use. Please label your item with your name and date on it prior to placing it in this refrigerator.

Feeding Your Baby in the NICU

The SOFFI Feeding Method helps you learn your baby's cues to create a safe and happy feeding experience. SOFFI stands for "Supporting Oral Feedings in Fragile Infants."


Expressed breast milk has a variety of benefits for mothers and babies. If you're unable to breastfeed your newborn(s) due to medical issues, you will need to begin pumping (by hand massage or by machine) within 1-4 hours after giving birth. This helps initiate milk production and provide colostrum, the first milk that you make. You should plan to pump every 2-4 hours throughout the day and night to initiate milk production and to provide milk for your newborn(s). A lactation consultant is available to help with breastfeeding and pumping. If you would like to have a lactation consultant meet with you, please ask your nurse to call.


A breast pump should be in your room. If you do not have a breast pump or breast pump kit in your room, please ask your nurse or lactation consultant to provide you with one. If you are being discharged from the Iowa Methodist Medical Center maternity unit, please bring your breast pump and breast pump kit from your maternity center room to your newborn's room in the NICU. Breast pump set-up instructions.

Storing Your Breast Milk
Labeling and Storing Your Expressed Breast Milk

The NICU will provide personal expressed breast milk labels to allow your nurse to scan the barcode during feedings. This will ensure your newborn's ID bar code matches the bar code on your expressed breast milk. The NICU has syringes and storage bottles that are available for you to store your expressed breast milk in. Staff will place any expressed breast milk that is in the refrigerator 24 hours after pumping in our NICU freezer. Any expressed breast milk that remains in the freezer at time of discharge will be provided to you to take home. If you need more storage bottles, syringes or expressed breast milk labels, please let your nurse know.


  1. Place your expressed breast milk in a storage bottle or syringe.
  2. Place the date and time that you began pumping and any medications that you are currently using on one of your newborn's expressed breast milk labels. If you have twins, please use both baby's labels.
  3. Place the label on the storage bottle or syringe that contains your expressed breast milk. Place the storage bottle or syringe in the refrigerator located in your room immediately after pumping and labeling.
Cleaning Breast Pump Pieces
Cleaning Breast Pump Pieces
  1. Disassemble your pump pieces completely.
  2. Rinse your pump pieces in cool water, then wash in hot soapy water. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. Air dry your pump pieces in a basin lined with a cloth diaper.
  4. Store your basin with your pump pieces away from the sink countertop and store at the parent bedside. If you are in need of a basin to wash and store your pump pieces in, please ask your nurse for one.
Sterilizing Breast Pump Pieces
Sterilizing Breast Pump Pieces

Your pump pieces should be sterilized in a micro-steam bag daily. If you do not have a micro-steam bag for your pump pieces, please ask your nurse or lactation consultant.

  1. Add 2 oz of water and your pump pieces to the micro-steam bag.
  2. Microwave the micro-steam bag with your pump pieces and water inside, according to the directions on the back of the micro-steam bag for the appropriate voltage of your microwave.
  3. Your infant's pacifier and bottles can be sterilized during this time as well, using the micro-steam bag.