NICU: What We Do

The babies cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are more vulnerable and dependent than healthy newborns. Many of them enter the world too early or are in crisis.

To care for these babies, it takes more than just one doctor or nurse. It takes a team.

At Rush, NICU team members draw on their experience, advanced skills and compassion to provide the best care possible for our smallest patients. Below is a look at who these team members are and what they do.

Members of the NICU team


Neonatologists are pediatricians with advanced training in caring for babies in the NICU. They provide comprehensive care for critically ill newborns and infants. They do the following:

  • Assist in transporting seriously ill babies to the NICU
  • Provide intensive care in the NICU
  • Consult with other doctors
  • Meet with families to discuss their baby’s care in the NICU

Neonatologists are available 24 hours a day and are all board-certified and actively involved in leading-edge treatment and research.

They take a family-focused approach to the care of high-risk infants, allowing unrestricted visiting privileges for parents and grandparents.

Advanced practice nurses

The advanced practice nurses, also known as neonatal nurse practitioners (NNP), in the Rush NICU are a vital part of your baby's health care team. They specialize in providing medical care for infants in the NICU and are dedicated to improving your baby’s health. And, along with your baby's doctor, the NNP determines the care that your baby will need in the NICU.

NNPs are in the unit 24 hours a day, providing frequent monitoring of your baby. They give comprehensive medical care tailored to meet the needs of your baby and your family.

Working in collaboration with the neonatologist, the NNP evaluates, diagnoses, and treats babies in the NICU with skill, care and understanding. 

They have advanced education in neonatal nursing, medicine, and health care and must meet state licensing regulations, continuing education requirements, and competency standards. Neonatal nurse practitioners are certified by the National Certification Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that provides a national credentialing program for nurses. Nurse practitioners at Rush are also credentialed and privileged through the Rush Medical Staff Office. 


The Rush NICU nursing team provides extraordinary care with knowledge, skill and compassion.

Rush was the first hospital in Illinois serving both adults and children to achieve Magnet status and is the only one in the state serving both adults and children to receive the designation for a third time in a row.

Nutrition specialists

Good nutrition is an essential component in every baby's health. For babies facing additional medical challenges, it is especially important.

The NICU at Rush is staffed with licensed and registered dietitians who work daily with the medical team to provide your baby with optimal nutrition.

The NICU strongly supports the use of mother's own milk as the best possible source of nutrition for your baby via the Mother's Milk Club.

Social workers

A clinical social worker is a professional counselor who helps to assess and alleviate problems related to personal, family or social situations. Clinical social workers are a vital part of the rehabilitation multidisciplinary team.

This team helps provide support for the patient and family, coordinate discharge planning and insurance benefits. They also assist with financial problems and family conflicts.

Social workers also do the following:

  • Assist with financial problems
  • Help with family conflicts
  • Find community resources, such as support groups or educational materials
  • Help arrange family meetings with the health care team during times of difficult decision-making

To learn more about social work in the NICU, call (312) 947-8800.

Discharge planners

Taking a new baby home is exciting, but it can also be stressful. This can be more true when you take home a baby who has been in the NICU, whether it has been for a day or a few months.

At Rush, preparing for discharge begins from the time of admission and continues through the hospital stay. Discharge planners will make sure you have the knowledge and ability to safely care for your baby at home through a combination of teaching, discussions and hands-on practice throughout your baby's stay.

The discharge planner will help ensure that appropriate follow-up care is identified and coordinated, when possible, before your baby goes home. The entire NICU team, including the physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, discharge planner, physical therapists and others, will work together with you to coordinate a smooth transition home.

Respiratory therapists

Respiratory therapists are on site in the NICU 24 hours a day to care for your baby. The therapists are neonatal-trained therapists and are assigned to the NICU. All therapists are registered respiratory therapists, credentialed by the National Board of Respiratory Care.

Many of the therapists are neonatal/pediatric and ECMO specialists (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is a procedure that uses a machine that helps with breathing and, sometimes, heart functions). All therapists hold current neonatal resuscitation provider cards.

NICU therapists attend all high-risk deliveries at Rush and accompany babies when they are transported to the hospital or within the hospital. Each therapist is proficient using the highly sophisticated life support equipment.

Lactation consultants and peer counselors

The Rush Mothers' Milk Club is the lactation and human milk feeding program in the NICU at Rush. The clinical program is based on the most up-to-date research about lactation and human milk all NICU infants.

The neonatologists, nurses, dietitians and breastfeeding peer counselors work to share this research with families. They work with the NICU staff members to collect, store, and feed each mothers' milk using techniques and procedures that most benefit your baby.


Chaplains at Rush come from a variety of backgrounds. The staff includes a Roman Catholic priest, a Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi and clergy representing a variety of other denominations.

None of our chaplains works exclusively with one faith group. They serve everyone and help people access the resources of their own spirituality or religious traditions in the process of healing.

Physical therapists

A developmental assessment and intervention by a pediatric physical therapist is available for babies in the NICU. Parents of babies cared for by physical therapists are instructed in a home exercise program to promote normal patterns of movement.

A referral to an early intervention program, for ongoing therapy services after discharge from the NICU, can be prescribed if indicated. 

Transport team

If your baby requires advanced neonatal care, your infant's primary care provider may arrange transport to Rush’s NICU. A specialized neonatal transport team is extremely important, as newborn infants have special needs and require unique care.

Under the guidance of a board-certified neonatologist, the transport team consists of the following:

  • Certified neonatal nurse practitioner
  • Highly skilled neonatal nurse
  • Respiratory Therapist

The Rush Neonatal Transport team transports critically ill babies from referral centers throughout the Chicago area by ground ambulance. The ambulance is equipped with a specialized ventilator, nitric oxide and cooling abilities for brain injury. Approximately 125 babies are transported each year from our referring hospitals. 

Providers can arrange transport to Rush NICU by contacting physicians at Rush (312) 947-8800.

Palliative care medicine specialists

The Rush University Children's Hospital palliative care program provides care to children with complex, chronic medical problems that are potentially life-limiting or life-threatening. 

The team aims to anticipate, prevent, and relieve the physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual suffering of patients with and families caring for children with complex and chronic, medical problems. An infant or child who has complex needs can live well into their adult years. 

Programs that help care for you and your baby

Neonatal High Risk Follow-up Clinic

This multidisciplinary, follow-up clinic monitors infants for growth and neurologic development up to two years corrected age. The clinic is essentially a preemie clinic and follows all infants with birth weights less than 1,500 grams (3 pounds 5 ounces) when hospitalized in the Rush NICU.

Patients who meet the above criteria are referred during the hospital stay and the first visit is scheduled prior to discharge from the NICU.

Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center

The Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center at Rush is designed to give expectant parents and their referring physicians the information they need to provide optimal care to women carrying babies with anomalies (heart defects, intestinal problems, brain defects, etc.). The center continues to support parents in the care of their babies after delivery.