There are lots of reasons why babies are admitted to a neonatal unit. The most common reason is when babies are born many weeks before their due date. This is called premature birth.

Babies born at full term can also need extra care. Some babies become ill during or after birth for example with a breathing problem, infection or jaundice. Other babies have a problem detected during pregnancy, and may need surgery or other specialist care.

Babies born early

A baby is premature is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Babies can be born prematurely for many different reasons, but sometimes doctors do not know why a baby is born early.
Women pregnant with twins, triplets, or more babies are more likely to give birth early.

High blood pressure (pre-eclampsia, PET and HELLP syndrome) affects some women. If a mother’s blood pressure is dangerously high the baby may have to be born early.
Sometimes the waters break early, starting labour prematurely.

In other cases scans may show the baby is not growing well in the womb and it is safer for the baby to be born early.

Who’s who on the Neonatal Unit

You will meet lots of different people while your baby is on the Neonatal Unit. You should expect staff you meet to introduce themselves and their role on the NNU.


The most senior doctor is called the Consultant, and they are very experienced in looking after babies.

They will be supported by a team of other doctors called ST doctors. The number after the ST indicated how many years they have been training in paediatric and neonatal care. Tier 1 doctors are usually ST1-3 and Tier 2 doctors are usually ST4-8 (although in some hospitals they may be ST3).

Advanced Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (ANNP)

ANNPs are senior nurses who have had additional training in neonatal medicine. They will have a Masters Qualification. They may work on the Tier 1 rota or the Tier 2 rota, depending on their seniority.

Neonatal Nurses

Neonatal nurses have specialised in the care of newborn babies. After completing their nursing qualifications they will have additional training -on the neonatal unit, at university, or a combination of both.

Nursery Nurses

Nursery nurses specialise in the care of the special care babies.

Health Care Assistants (HCA)

The HCA is vital to the smooth running of the unit. The assist in both clinical and non-clinical areas of the neonatal unit.