NICU and Special Care Nursery

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the Special Care Nursery (SCN) provide care for babies who need extra attention after birth.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) consists of 20 intensive care beds and 14 Special Care Nursery (SCN) beds and admits up to 800 patients per year. The NICU provides intensive care for newborns across the ACT and surrounding regions of NSW.  A multi-disciplinary team of nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologist, social workers and auxiliary staff provide holistic care for all babies in the NICU. Our mission is to provide optimum care for all babies.

Babies may be admitted the NICU or SCU for many reasons. These may include preterm birth, low birth weight, breathing difficulty, low blood sugar level, infection, birthing complications and some congenital abnormalities. A specially trained team are available at all times to provide direct patient care and attend all high-risk births.

There are a number of other nurseries in the ACT and NSW that can provide high quality care to newborns and their families. Once babies admitted to the NICU no longer need intensive care support, they are often transferred to other special care nurseries (Calvary Bruce, Calvary John James, Queanbeyan or hospitals in regional NSW).

Newborn Emergency Transport Service (NETS ACT)

We have a retrieval service called the Newborn Emergency Transport Service (NETS ACT) that transports babies between hospitals in the ACT and surrounding NSW region. This is a mobile intensive care service that functions with either a nurse alone or a nurse and doctor depending on the needs of the baby.  There is a NETS NSW service that also transports babies to and from NSW if this is required.

If your baby is admitted to NICU or SCN

Once your baby has been admitted to NICU or SCN, members of the team will meet with you to discuss your baby’s condition and how you can participate in your baby’s care. We understand that your baby’s stay in the unit can be an anxious and stressful time for you and your family.

Family Centred Care

Care in the NICU/SCN is guided by a Family Centred Care (FCC) approach in which parents are central in the care given to their baby. We encourage parents to be active participants of the NICU/SCN team. We will strive to nurture caregivers, while supporting and empowering them to ensure babies’ best outcomes. All members of our community are asked to demonstrate kindness, compassion and respect for each other and all cultures.

Family centred care means:

  • parents are always welcome at their baby’s bedside
  • providing every opportunity for families to bond and care for their baby
  • parents are encouraged to participate in bedside rounds
  • parents are a part of your baby’s treating team and actively participate in their baby’s care
  • providing parents education to learn about your baby’s growth and development throughout their admission to NICU and SCN
Communicating with the NICU/SCN Team

Family centred rounds give you the opportunity to speak with your baby’s medical team and participate in their healthcare. Every morning the clinical team participate in rounds to discuss your baby’s status and progress. Rounds are between 08.30 and 11.00 daily. If you have any questions about your baby’s daily care or anything said during rounds, please talk to your baby’s nurse. If you need more information or have any questions a member of our medical team is available to speak with you at any time. If you aren’t able to attend rounds, we can set up a family meeting or a telephone consultation at time that is convenient for your family.

  • Handwashing is one of the most important precautions you can take to prevent infection when caring for your baby. Please ensure you always wash your hands before you enter the unit.
  • We also ask that you complete a 1-minute fingertip-to-elbow scrub before you first enter your baby’s room.
  • To do this, please roll up your sleeves and remove any watches, bracelets and rings. Ensure you clean your forearms up to the elbows and dry thoroughly.
  • You should also use alcohol rub after touching any surfaces (e.g. phone, books, and handbag).
Creating a Nurturing Environment

To ensure the safety of your baby and others at the NICU and SCN, we ask that you please follow the information and advice below.

  • To reduce bedside noise levels in the NICU and SCN, please ensure your phone is either set to silent or turned off. Please clean your phone regularly.
  • To ensure safety for all babies, staff and visitors should not have hot drinks in patient rooms. Patient areas where there are babies and children, are 'hot drink free zones'.
  • To promote a nurturing environment, please limit visitors to one parent and two visitors at a time.
  • Quiet Time’ is between 1 – 3pm and only parents are permitted.
Visiting the NICU/SCN
  • Every family is given a swipe card to have 24 hour access to the unit and should only be used by parents.  This is provided by the ward clerks during the daytime.  
  • Parents are welcome to spend time with their baby 24 hours a day.
  • Prior to discharge please return your swipe card to the ward clerk or your baby’s nurse.
  • Please ask visitors to text or ring you on arrival, so you can let them in with your swipe card & accompany them into the unit.
  • Visitors are not allowed to visit without parents unless pre-arranged with the department.
  • Children under 12 years of age, who are not siblings, are not able to visit.
If you are unwell
  • We ask that anyone with a cold or other illness does not visit the unit until they are well.
  • The NICU and SCN are ‘no cough’ zones. Whooping cough can be life threatening to babies – if visitors have a cough, please advise them not to visit.

Cold Sores

  • If you have a cold sore, please inform the medical or nursing staff caring for your baby. It may be necessary to take extra precautions to prevent cross infection.
Breastfeeding in the NICU and SCN

The Canberra Hospital campus is a baby friendly accredited hospital and we encourage your baby to be breastfed. Many babies in the NICU and SCN are unable to breastfeed at first. They are fed through a tube until they are strong enough and continue to grow. You can express your milk and let us freeze it so it can be stored and used later. This also helps ensure you have a good milk supply.
We encourage all mothers to provide breast milk for their baby. The first milk, colostrum, can be collected in labelled syringes and fed to your baby.

Expressing in NICU and SCN

A bedside Nurse or Lactation Consultant can provide you with a pump kit and help you begin expressing through a breast pump after 24 hours of hand expressing. Mobile electric breast pumps are available in your baby’s room. We also have an Expressing Room in the SCN if you would prefer to express breast milk in private away from clinical and public areas. The room is available 24 hours a day. Please remember to bring your kit to attach to the electric pump. Males are not allowed in the expressing room for privacy of others.

Storage and Use of Expressed Breast Milk

It’s essential that Expressed Breast Milk (EBM) is stored correctly.

This includes:

  • correctly labelling the milk with your name, date and time of collection using the baby labels your nurse gives you
  • storing EBM in the body compartment of the refrigerator—never in the refrigerator door if you have expressed at home
  • never refreezing the milk after it’s been thawed
  • transporting labelled EBM in cooler bag from home to NICU/SCN
  • giving the EBM to the nurse caring for your baby. They will double check it is labelled correctly
  • not placing or removing milk from the fridges. This is done by the nurse caring for your baby who double checks that it’s labelled correctly and given to the right baby.

Your EBM is collected from the NICU and SCN refrigerators in the morning by the Nutrition Room technician. The milk is then poured into individual amounts for your baby’s feeds over the next 24 hours. The remaining EBM is frozen for later use. To assist the nutrition team if your baby is only taking small amounts of EBM, please express and divide the milk into syringes.

Newborn and Parent Support Service (NAPSS)

NAPSS provides an early discharge program for NICU and SCN families and babies who still require nursing care, support and advice at home. Staff support parents with the management of their baby that may require home oxygen, nasogastric tube feeds or palliative care. Experienced neonatal nurses coordinate care with a multidisciplinary team of health professionals. The NAPSS service operates seven days a week as well as 24-hour telephone support. Please read the NAPSS Brochure for more information.

Growth and Development Follow Up Program

As part of our patients’ overall care, we want to ensure NICU and SCN graduates who may be at high risk of developmental and behavioural problems are identified early and referred to the appropriate services to help them reach their full potential.  Our clinic criteria currently includes:  babies born at <30 weeks gestation or <1000g, babies who undergo major surgery in the newborn period and babies who have moderate or severe hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy.  Families from the NICU and SCN are invited to participate in the follow-up program depending on their baby’s needs. Some families are seen directly and some families participate in a questionnaire by phone.

Miracle Babies Foundation

Miracle Babies Foundation (MBF) is a non-profit organisation that supports premature & sick newborns, their family & the hospitals that care for them.Their services also includes:

Life’s Little Treasures

The Foundation is a charitable organisation set up by the parents of premature babies.  They provide extensive support for families and their babies by offering information (written and online), a newsletter, access to community support and playgroups, family social events, financial and material support through their “Family Assistance Programs”. or call 1300 697 736.

Stella Bella Little Star Foundation

The Little Star Beads Program, a branch of the Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation, aims to brighten the lives of children in the ACT region who are living with serious and long term illness.  As part of the Little Star beads program, babies admitted to NICU and SCN receive beads for specific medical procedures, milestones in their treatment, and create a string of beads to tell the story of their personal medical journey. Email: or phone 0423 439 889.

Newborn Intensive Care Foundation

The Newborn Intensive Care Foundation was established in 1995. Foundation support covers a wide range of activities, which include the provision of medical equipment not available through normal Government channels. In addition, the Foundation supports research and education activities aimed at improving clinical care and the long term outcomes of babies admitted to a NICU.

Page last updated on: 3 Jun 2020