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Premature baby asleep

SCBU stands for Special Care Baby Unit. Things can be a little bit different from hospital to hospital but generally babies in SCBU can be provided with:

  • Monitoring of breathing or heart rate
  • Additional oxygen
  • Tube feeding with nasogastric tube
  • Phototherapy for jaundice
  • Transitional care after being discharged from NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)
  • Help for mums to establish breastfeeding and express breast milk

Transferring from NICU to SCBU

If your baby has been discharged from NICU and admitted to SCBU it can seem a lot less ‘medical’ – this can take a little bit of getting used to if you have been reassured by the level of equipment and staff in NICU. Your baby may no longer be in an incubator and could be in an open-topped ‘hot bed’ (to keep your baby warm) or an ordinary hospital cot. Babies are only transferred to SCBU when they no longer need intensive care, so try to be reassured that this is a great sign that your baby is getting stronger and better.

If your baby is taken straight to SCBU

Similarly, if you were expecting to be on a postnatal ward (or have a home birth) with your baby, it can be very upsetting to be separated from your baby while they are looked after in SCBU. Nursing staff and midwives in SCBU will make sure you can spend as much time as possible with your new baby, with lots of skin-to-skin contact, cuddling and feeding.

Looking after your baby in SCBU

Tube feeding

Babies in SCBU have often not fully established breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. If they are premature, they may not yet have a strong sucking reflex and may get very tired during feeds.

For this reason many babies in SCBU have a little tube in their nose that delivers milk directly to their stomach. As a parent you will be shown how to tube-feed your baby using this nasogastric tube.

A little syringe of milk is attached onto the end of the tube and then you simply hold the syringe above your baby so that the milk travels into your baby’s stomach slowly with the force of gravity.

Before each feed you will be shown how to withdraw a little bit of the previous milk feed from the tube to check that your baby has digested it properly (this is done by squirting a little of the syringe contents onto litmus paper to check the stomach acids are working).

Breast milk

Breast milk is the best food for all babies but is particularly important for babies in special care. The staff in SCBU are trained to help you with breastfeeding your baby. As babies in special care are often not able to feed effectively, mums are encouraged to start expressing breast milk to help establish their milk supply.

SCBU has fantastic electric pumps that will allow you to express your breast milk quickly and quietly throughout the day and night. The milk you produce can either be given to your baby immediately or stored for later use. The nurses and midwives on SCBU will help you to express and store your milk and your expressed milk will generally be given to your baby as a tube or cup feed.

You will also be able to offer your baby lots of opportunities to breastfeed and many premature or poorly babies master breastfeeding quite quickly. They will have a mixture of breastfeeds, tube feeds and cup feeds during the day.

Formula milk

Your baby may need to be supplemented with formula milk. The hospital will provide your baby with formula milk especially formulated for premature babies. Again, this formula milk will be given as a tube feed, a cup feed or in a bottle if you choose to bottle-feed your baby.

Kangaroo care

There will be lots of opportunity for skin-to-skin contact with your baby. This is sometimes called ‘kangaroo care’ and is great for babies and their parents. As well as regulating your baby’s breathing and temperature, it also really helps bonding between babies and their parents.

For more information on the special care needed for babies born premature or sick, visit Bliss.


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