Inter-Hospital Transfer of the Pregnant Woman: 1/2

I’m pleased to host Dr. Tanya Goodwin as she discusses the difference between NICU’s and their designation. This will be Part I of her post. Part II covering transfer specifics will be on Wednesday.

One thing I want to point out is the Trauma Center designations run opposite of NICU’s. A Level I Trauma Center is where the most critical patients are taken if possible. Level II and Level III can always stabilize but may need to transfer the patient out.

Welcome back, Tanya!

Most pregnant woman will happily deliver their babies in a comfy hospital maternity unit. But for a few, their labor and delivery may need to be at a more specialized facility, or their infants may need to be transferred to an appropriate NICU or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

So how does this all happen?

Aside from a rare, life threatening maternal illness or a pregnant woman involved in a traumatic accident, transfer of the pregnant woman is usually based on the neonatal need.

A woman between 36 and 40+ weeks gestation (last month of pregnancy) can stay at a level I facility. Their babies will do quite well in a regular newborn nursery. Occasionally, a full-term baby may not adjust well to extrauterine life or have breathing problems or unforeseen medical or surgical issues that requires prompt transport to level II or III NICU (usually level III).

A level II nursery or special care nursery can accommodate those infants between 32 and 35 weeks. A 35 “weeker”, if doing well can stay at a level I /newborn nursery. Infants in a Level II are mainly there to feed and grow or receive a course of antibiotics.

Level III NICU’s are for babies that need long term care such as assistance with respirations via ventilators, medical or surgical issues. They may need to be fed through special nutritional intravenous fluids. These are the NICUs you usually see on TV.

A newer level, IV, has been touted as the place for extreme pre-term babies, between 22-25 weeks. Level III/IV are in urban centers (tertiary centers or teaching hospitals) where there are 24 hr neonatologists/sub-specialty neonatologists, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, fellows, residents, and medical student. A very busy place!

Two of the most common scenarios requiring maternal transfer are pre-term labor (labor before completed 36 weeks pregnancy) and premature rupture of membranes (water breaking before 36 weeks). These conditions frequently co-exist, but not necessarily. If the OB is in a level I unit, then transfer of the woman is considered. If the OB is in a level II unit then depending on the gestation, the woman may stay or may be transported. No problem if already in a tertiary hospital.

More on this topic Wednesday.
Tanya Goodwin is an obstetrician/gynecologist and a novelist of romantic suspense with slice of medicine. She enjoys sprinkling unusual medical conditions in her writing. A character in one of her novels has the misfortune of contracting necrotizing fasciitis, and in her debut novel, If Memory Serves, due for release in November by Knight Romance Publishing, her main character, Dr. Tara Ross has dissociative fugue, a rare disorder as well. You can find out more about Tanya at

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