Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU): Feeding and Hearing difficulties

Hi everyone!!

Apologies for the delay in posting the September article 😊

September is Neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) awareness month. The NICU is home to babies born premature or with complicated medical symptoms. Speech-Language Therapists and Audiologists play a vital role in the NICU. Believe it or not, as SLTs we work with new-born babies. This comes as a surprise to most parents when they are informed that their new-born baby requires speech therapy or a hearing test. So here is a brief outline about a SLT and audiologist role in the NICU.

Speech Therapy in the NICU:

Babies born premature (before 9 months gestation) are usually kept in NICU if they have low birth weight or other medical symptoms. The paediatrician normally refers to the SLT to assist a baby in improving their sucking for feeding. Some babies do not develop a sucking reflex for breast feeding or bottle feeding or have difficulties co-ordinating their suck-swallow-breathe synchrony. A SLT assesses the baby’s swallowing and feeding ability and stimulate the sucking and swallowing reflexes through different techniques. Some babies require special teats for bottle feeding to assist with controlling the flow of milk during feeding. Other babies may require a nipple shield for breast feeding to create a better latch for feeding. Sometimes different positioning techniques are required to safely position a baby to improve airway protection and prevent choking during feeding.

New-born Hearing Testing

It may be hard to believe that a hearing test can be performed on a new-born, just hours after birth if permitted. Technology has come a long way with regards to diagnostic hearing testing. A new-born hearing test takes only a few minutes and can accurately determine if a baby can hear. New-born hearing testing is always advocated for all babies to determine the hearing status of a child. Impaired hearing can adversely affect language acquisition in infants. The Audiologist is the only qualified healthcare professional who conducts a new-born hearing test. This is done by using either an Otoacoustic Emissions test (OAE) or an Auditory Brainstem Response test (ABR). The OAE is a common procedure used. The test is conducted while the baby is asleep. The Audiologist will insert a small probe into the ear. Sounds are played and a response is measured. If a baby hears normally, an echo is reflected into the ear canal and is measured by the OAE. If there is no echo reflected, this is indicative of a possible hearing loss and a re-screen is recommended at a later stage.

Click on the link to view how safely and effectively new-born hearing testing is conducted.

Coping with a baby in NICU

Being a mother to a premature bay in NICU can be very daunting. Your baby may sometimes be too tiny or fragile to hold and seeing different machines and cords connected to your baby can be overwhelming. The NICU’s that I work in are equipped with experienced and professional nurses that really go the extra mile for mums and little ones. The specialist paediatricians I work with are phenomenal and strive to ensure that the best medical care is provided for their patients. It really takes a team effort to help the babies and support the families.


The following tips may be useful for new mothers that feel overwhelmed having their baby in NICU:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (even simple ones). Rather ask questions and voice your thoughts to the medical team. This will ease your stress and anxiety about your baby.
  2. Don’t be afraid to touch/ hold your baby. If permitted, touch your baby and hold your baby close to you. Skin to skin contact is important and starts the bonding process with you and your baby.
  3. Try to be involved in your baby’s care. Observe the nurses bathing, changing and feeding your baby and begin doing these tasks on your own. This will assist you with becoming independent at home.
  4. Talk and sing to your baby. Hearing your voice soothes and stimulates them.
  5. Embrace family and friend support. They are your helping hands and channel of emotional and social support. Don’t leave people out and try to tackle everything on your own. Have a close network of people that you can rely on.

It’s never easy having a baby in NICU, especially babies that are medically compromised. It’s important that you know that you are not alone in your journey and that there is always a team of professionals available to lend the support and expert opinions to help your baby.

Take Care