FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Babies who are born before their due date require special care and attention that some hospitals may be unable to provide. Fortunately for Soldiers and their Family members, Womack Army Medical Center has a neonatal infant care unit dedicated to caring for babies who decide to come a little early.

The NICU provides specialized, neonatal care to babies with 30 weeks and greater gestation. The unit centers care on the Family, with the parents making all the decisions in the infant's care. The parents also play a large role in the care by changing diapers, bathing, feeding and strengthening the bond with their baby.

There are many advantages for military Families to choose WAMC for multiple birth, high-risk and premature deliveries.

"We're a much smaller nursery than Cape Fear and in many cases, we're closer and easier to get to for the Families," said Dr. A.J. Grein, neonatologist. "Because we have lower activity than the hospitals in the surrounding community, the nurses are able to spend more time with the baby and the mother."

Grein added that all the equipment in the unit is thoroughly modernized and includes state-of-the-art incubators, radiant warmers, ventilators and monitoring systems. The staff is also highly trained and all are specialized in neonatal care.

"We do not operate under the 'see one, do one, teach one' mentality," said Kim Howard, a registered nurse who is the NICU nurse manager. "You have to have experience to work here."
The experienced staff includes five nurses and five neonatologists, as well as personnel specializing in respiratory therapy, nutrition, development, audiology and cardiology. They also now have a social worker.

Since an early birth is not something that can always be predicted, a nurse practitioner is always on duty, 24 hours a day to provide assistance when needed.

"A lot of what we do is very reactionary," said Grein. "We all work together at Womack and other doctors do keep us informed about multiple birth situations and high risk pregnancies. This enables us to meet with the mom in a clinic setting and answer any questions she may have instead of us just showing up when she's in labor."

Another advantage of WAMC's NICU is the ability for the mother to stay at the hospital with her child. Many of the babies stay in the hospital until their orginal due date, which is from eight to 12 weeks.

"That's a long time for the parents to have to travel to see their baby," said Paula Roach, a neonatal nurse practitioner. "The mom can stay and be able to participate in the daily activities revolving around the care of her child. You just don't get that anywhere else."

The unit plans to add the capability to care for babies with 28 weeks or greater gestation by May. The staff is training on the additional challenges that come with caring for babies that young.

"From where we were in May 1997 to where we are today, it's phenomenal. It's important to stay up-to-date and be on the cutting edge. We know the standards and we work hard to exceed them," said Howard.