Welcome to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the Special Care Nursery

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) consists of 20 intensive care and 14 Special Care Nursery (SCN) cot spaces 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 exceptional health 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

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 integrated care

Care in the NICU/SCN is guided by a Family Centred Care 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 welcome in NICU/SCN. Due to the COVID-19 response, we need to keep making changes to the way we deliver Women, Youth and Children health services to keep our women and babies safe. We encourage you to regularly check our Temporary changes page for the latest advice.
  • providing every opportunity for families to bond and care for their baby
  • parents are encouraged to participate in bedside rounds
  • as parents you are a part of your baby’s treating team and actively participate in your 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 08.30am and 11am 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).

Please watch this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PmVJQUCm4E

Creating a nurturing environment

To ensure the safety of your baby and others in 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 1pm – 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 and 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.

Map of NICU and SCN

NICU and SCN map
NICU Cotspace Phone Number
21/22 51247321
23/24 51247323
25/26 51247325
27/28 51247327
29/30 51247329
31 51247331
32/33 51247332
34/35 51247334
36/37 51247336
38/39 51247338
40/41 51247340
SCN Cotspace Phone Number
6/7 51247306
8/9 51247308
10/11 51247310
12 51247312
13/14 51247313
15/16 51247315
17/18 51247317
19/20 51247319

Food and drink

To make your stay with us more pleasant, the unit and the hospital have a range of food and drink options. We have hot drink free zones in the patient areas.  We encourage you to bring a water bottle into the unit and a range of cold snacks. Please let us know if you need assistance with meals or drinks.

  • Complimentary ice water and ice are available 24 hours a day in Family Room 1.
  • Complimentary tea, instant coffee, milk and sugar are available 24 hours a day in Family Room 2.
  • BYO – We have a small shared fridge, microwave and washing up facilities in Family Room 2.
  • Cold and hot drinks are available for purchase within the campus, https://health.act.gov.au/hospitals-and-health-centres/canberra-hospital/your-time-hospital/facilities.
  • All families with a baby in the unit have access to the Ronald McDonald family room which is located on Level 1 near the Paediatric Wards in the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.

Partnering with parents

Parents are central in the care given to their baby and we encourage parents to be active participants of the NICU/SCN team. We aim to give caregivers ongoing, appropriate support to achieve the best outcomes for their baby.

  • Family education is provided to make the transition to home easier.
  • NICUCAM – a complimentary live stream for you and your family to access your baby when you are not in the unit, via your phone, iPad or computer. All babies in SCN have access to NICUCAM and the option is available in NICU on a case to case basis.
  • Volunteers provide so much for our families and the unit.  We are lucky to have the Stella Bella Bead program, Miracle Babies and life’s little treasures input. We also have hospital volunteers who you will see throughout your stay and who will help you with day to day activities in the unit

Newborn and Parent Support Service

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

Growth and Development Follow Up Program

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.

Families from the NICU and SCN may be invited by the clinical team to participate in the follow-up program depending on their baby’s needs. You may be seen directly or participate in a questionnaire by phone.

Parent Education APPS

Parents have told us about the Parent Education Apps that have made their stay with us easier. They are free apps from hospitals who follow the same integrated care model. They are available in both the Google and Apple stores.

The Integrated Family Delivered Neonatal Care (IFDC) app helps parents of premature babies take an active role in their newborn's treatment in an intensive care unit. The app offers an up to date and comprehensive educational material, developmental timeline and different diary functions to document the neonatal journey and memories. The IFDC app gives the opportunity to learn more about neonatal care, chart expressing, skin-to-skin cuddles and feeding progress and growth as well as record events, pictures and memories of your journey.

Apple store:  https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/integrated-family-delivered-neonatal-care-ifdc/id1196284490

Google store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.neonatal&hl=en_US

The Babble contains information about feeding, equipment, routine checks and tests, common diseases, medication, information about what you can expect when your baby is born preterm and also information needed when your baby goes home. You can also read stories of other parents’ experience and journey with their baby in the Neonatal unit.

Apple store: https://apps.apple.com/nz/app/babble-nz-neonatal-family-app/id1091698082

Google store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nodero.babble&hl=en

Miracle Babies Foundation

Miracle Babies Foundation is a non-profit organisation that supports premature and sick newborns, their family and the hospitals that care for them. Their services also includes:
NurtureLine: National 24 hour family helpline. Call 1300 622 243
NurtureGroup: Out of hospital play and support. Call 1300 773 664 or 02 9724 8999 to register for the first time.

For more information visit www.miraclebabies.org.au/

Life’s Little Treasures

Life’s Little Treasures 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, a newsletter, access to community support and playgroups, family social events, financial and material support through their Family Assistance Programs.

For more information visit www.lifeslittletreasures.org.au/about-us/ 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 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.

For more information visit stellabellalittlestars.org.au/little-stars-beads-program/

Newborn Intensive Care Foundation

The Newborn Intensive Care Foundation was established in 1995. The foundation supports 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.

For more information visit newborn.org.au/

Page last updated on: 30 Nov 2020