Love babies? Love nursing then you should consider a career as a neonatal nurse. Explore what neonatal nurses and neonatal nurse practitioners do within this guide.

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse Guide
How to Become a Neonatal Nurse Guide

Table of Contents

Quick Summary

Neonatal nurses and Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNP) mainly provide care for babies who are ill or who otherwise need additional specialized medical treatment. Neonatal nurses are registered nurses who care for newborn infants.

Neonatal nurses provide direct patient care for newborns that are premature and full term. Specifically during the baby’s first 28 days of life. Some of the babies they care for will be prematurely born, ill, and need special care with around-the-clock monitoring.

Degree required to practice: Bachelor of Science Degree (BSN) for entry-level NICU nursing positions or a Masters’ Degree (MSN) to become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner from an accredited institution.

License: Active Registered Nursing Licensure (RN) from your state board of nursing

Median annual salary: The median annual salary for NICU/Neonatal nurses is $67,490*

Median annual salary: The median annual salary for Neonatal Nurse Practitioners is $96,460*

Certification: The National Certification Corporation offers certification in several neonatal nursing concentrations. Additionally, you can find certifications through The American Association of Critical Nurses. They offer certification in Neonatal Critical Care Nursing.


What do Neonatal Nurses Do?

Some neonatal nurses work in the delivery room and help to take charge of caring for the newborn as soon as he or she is born. They will clean up the baby, make a visual assessment making sure he/she has all of his toes and fingers draw blood normally prickling the newborn’s heel of their foot.

Once they gather the blood, it is sent off to a laboratory for further testing. Further testing allows doctors to know if the baby will need special foods or need to be placed in intensive care units.

Job duties of Neonatal Nurses:

  • Collaborate with medical health teams, Perinatologists, and physicians to ensure newborns are receiving the highest level of care
  • Provide support for parents along with help educate them on how to care for their young
  • Maintain recent records
  • Taking newborn vital signs provide newborn examinations
  • Provide care to critical care to infants provide specialized feedings, bathing and diaper changing, oxygen therapies, and more

Neonatal nurses have a unique job. They are responsible for keeping babies alive, well with around-the-clock feedings, and constantly must be aware of what is going on with the baby. The majority of the time nurses can sign up for a baby based on disease or unusual condition. For the newborn’s duration at the Hospital, the Neonatal nurse is their assigned nurse; this is helpful for parents who now have a name and face to go to when they have questions.

Some parents know ahead of time if their baby will need to be placed in the Nursing Intensive Care Unit (NICU) while other parents and families know the day of and are shocked to find out the newborn needs special treatment in the NICU.

Depending on the hospital size and geographic location a hospital can have several levels for healthy and preemie babies.

Level 1: This level is for babies who are healthy and are born without any complications. Frequently the newborn rooms with mother in her hospital room.

Level 2: This level provides specialized care for preemie babies that have been born with a disease, illness, or otherwise have a birth defect. This nursery has nurses with more advanced training and experience. Newborns in level 2 may have underdeveloped lungs and may need oxygen, specialized intravenous therapies, and individual feeding through a tube.

Many parents are often overwhelmed when walking into a level 2 nursery due to the overwhelming beeping that constantly is going off. However, every beep or alarm has a meaning, and neonatal nurses are trained to understand what each beep or alarm means.

Level 3: Advanced Practice Neonatal Nurses can be found within this unit. Nurses with advanced degrees and training care for babies who need more specialized care. Many newborns within level 3 are classified as at-risk and may require surgery, ventilators, and incubators. Typically level three intensive care units are found in larger hospitals.

What core skills and personality competencies needed:

  • Have advanced and basic knowledge of the individual and unique needs of neonatal babies. (The body of a full-term baby in comparison to a preemie baby can be completely different and will need to be treated differently).
  • Be comfortable with working with tiny babies.
  • Have a good grasp of math and be able to give the correct medication dosage.
  • Have excellent communication and interpersonal skills to help new mothers and families feel comfortable and at ease. (Some patients and families will look to you for support as this could be an incredibly sensitive time for them).


What education will I need to become a Neonatal Nurse?

The training to become a Neonatal Nurse requires you to be a Registered Nurse. There is, however, no special education for neonatal nursing. Depending on which school you attend some colleges and universities will have neonatal elective credit courses you can take.

  • Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing to obtain an entry-level position.
  • Be an RN with a license that is in good standing.
  • If you decide to work in critical care, you can become certified in Neonatal Critical Care Nursing (CCRN). This certification is voluntary and is maintained by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

The CCRN certification is for registered nurses that provide bedside care for adults, pediatric or neonatal patients.

Obtaining this certification may allow you to apply for employment positions in specialty units such as cardiac care units, trauma units, or even intensive care units.

Most crediting centers require at least 24 months of work experience in this specialty to qualify to become certified.

If you decide you would like to pursue a more advanced position such as Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP), you will need to earn an advanced degree. There are several advanced practice neonatal master’s degree training programs to choose from and take two years to complete.

Most of these MSN programs are affiliated with large medical centers that are equipped to care for premature babies. Typically to gain entrance into a neonatal advanced practice degree program may require you to have NICU previous work experience.


Career Outlook

The DOL has predicted employment for RNs will continue to grow much faster than average. Aside from this neonatal nursing specialty should be in popular demand. As many nursing students find working with babies is a rewarding experience and frequently feel they get paid to take care of a baby is a wonderful, heart-warming experience. The outlook is excellent and even better for neonatal nurses who hold master’s degrees.


Check out our other Nursing School Guides.