Neonatal nurses put their skills to work by providing care for newborns, often 28 days of age or less. These nurses need to have an incredible insight to be able to work with the just-born and be level-headed decision-makers so that they can identify what the next step of care should be. They are need to be pros at deciphering the language of "baby" and whether that means an infant needs to be picked up, have a diaper changed or is in need of attention of another type.

Day in the Life of a Neonatal Nurse

Neonatal nurses work with extremely young children, most often in a nursery or intensive care setting, At the very basic level, they take care of newborns in a nursery, providing them with basic care while also helping new parents understand umbilical care, breastfeeding, the fundamentals of taking care of a baby and more. This is known as Level I Nursery Care. On the job, neonatal nurses may also:

  • Maintain patient records
  • Provide information and support for families
  • Administer medications, vaccines or other treatments
  • Oversee vital signs and follow specific plans of care
  • Perform various types of diagnostic tests

However, the work of a this specially qualified nurse can sometimes be more challenging. At more advanced levels of care, they provide attention to specific infants and may have to complete tasks, such as:

  • Taking care of special feeding needs
  • Providing supplemental oxygenation
  • Administering IVs
  • Providing information to parents or caregivers

The most advanced care setting these highly trained nurses may work in is a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The infants in that setting are typically fragile and may have extremely low birth-weights, often between to 1.5 and 3 pounds. These babies also may suffer from withdrawal symptoms if their mother abused or used alcohol or drugs. Infants could be in NICU for many other reasons, including serious infections, organs that are not functioning quite right or body parts that are still developing.

Important Characteristics for Becoming a Neonatal Certified Nurse

Neonatal nurse careers can be great for people who are committed to caring for the very young and often the very fragile. Obviously, compassion and patience serve a nurse well on the job, but neonatal nurses also should be able to manage stress while staying on top of care. Physical stamina is important on the job, too, since they often work long hours and have many different responsibilities for the pint-sized patients under their care.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Neonatal Nurse

All certified neonatal nurses must first be registered nurses (RNs), so going to college and obtaining an education is essential. Here are most common steps taken for becoming a neonatal nurse.

  1. Complete an associate or bachelor's degree program. The subjects covered in college classes are essential for building fundamental nursing skills. Available registered nurse (RN) programs are listed under titles such as:

    • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
    • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
    • Online RN Degree
    • Online RN to BSN Healthcare Degree
    • Online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing

      Of note, students opting for an associate degree in nursing can always later go back and complete their four-year degree, which can be helpful if they ever want to continue on to graduate-level education. Online programs typically become available to nurses once they have an associate degree.

  2. Take the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) exam. Earning either an associate or bachelor's degree can help students to obtain skills and clinical experiences helpful to sitting for the exam. Passing this test is necessary to obtain state licensure and a job, as it gives nurses a way to provide evidence of their skills.

  3. Look for a job in a hospital. Experience working with newborns is essential to seeking certification later on. One route to a job could be from completing clinical hours in college in a nursery or neonatal unit and leveraging those connections. Once employed, new nurses can gain specific experiences working with newborns, of whom 40,000 are born each year alone with low birth weights.

  4. Seek neonatal nurse certification. After having some experience in the field, nurses can become qualified to sit for certification. One such certification is offered by the National Certification Corporation specifically in neonatal intensive care (NIC). Another certification is available through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and is called the Neonatal certification. Each exam requires that RNs have prior direct care experience.

  5. Consider more education. RNs can later advance toward a nurse practitioner (NP) career. This requires graduate-level education and clinical experiences in the neonatal field. Nurse practitioners generally receive more pay than RNs and can have more autonomy on the job.


  • CCRN Neonatal, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, Accessed December 2017, https://www.aacn.org/certification/get-certified/ccrn-neo
  • Is a Career in Neonatal Nursing Right for You? National Association of Neonatal Nurses, Accessed December 2017, http://nann.org/professional-development/what-is-neonatal-nursing
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing, National Certification Corporation, Accessed December 2017, https://www.nccwebsite.org/certification/Exam-detail.aspx?eid=8
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