How Long Does It Take to Become a Neonatal Nurse?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Neonatal Nurse?

Becoming a neonatal nurse is no easy task, and once you begin to work with infants you will be handling one of the most demanding jobs in healthcare.

If you feel that you are up to the challenge, then expect to study for four years – at the minimum. You will first need to get your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, and then earn experience as well as your certification in Neonatal Resuscitation or for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing.

Neonatal nurses have one of the most fulfilling jobs in healthcare. Read on if you are interested in learning how you can possibly become one, and what you can expect out of it.

Becoming a Neonatal Nurse

What is a Neonatal Nurse?

Before getting into how long it takes to become a neonatal nurse, it may be beneficial to the uninitiated and those unfamiliar with this profession to go over what exactly a neonatal nurse is, and what the job entails.

In short, neonatal nurses specialize in taking care of newborn babies who have various health issues. They care for these babies for the first few days after birth, up to a few weeks, depending on the condition of the infant and how quickly they recover.

Neonatal nurses are trained to handle various birth defects and other problems that newborn infants may be experiencing, sometimes utilizing the neonatal intensive care unit to deal with severe cases.

In addition to handling babies with birth defects, neonatal nurses care for infants which are suffering from infections and cardiac irregularities, or issues with the heart.

They also handle a number of other different afflictions that newborn infants may be suffering from. Their overall goal is to help the baby recover so that they can get home to their mother and father happy and healthy.

What Exactly Do Neonatal Nurses Do?

Neonatal Nurses

As discussed earlier, the job of a neonatal nurse is to care for and help newborn infants towards recovery, so that they can go home to their new mother and father at full health.

Neonatal nurses also interact and communicate with the parents of the infants. Some of the responsibilities that this job entails is helping new parents to hold and feed or bathe their newborn children.

Think of neonatal nurses as a sort of bridge between the parents of the newborn baby and the specialists who will be assisting the infant in their recovery.

For the most part, neonatal nurses will be found within hospitals and in clinics, seeing as this is where most births will take place and the facilities are usually readily available.

You can also find neonatal nurses working in a variety of settings such as in community settings and even providing follow-up care for babies which are suffering from severe afflictions, after the baby has left the hospital.

Neonatal nurses are expected to closely observe the infants they are watching over and determine whether or not the behavior of the child is normal or abnormal, and then report these findings immediately.

They will keep an eye on the blood circulation and oxygenation of the baby, and will constantly check their vital signs in order to be sure that the infant is healthy at all times.

While doing all of this, it is also paramount that a neonatal nurse gives the babies as much contact with their mothers as possible right from the get-go. This helps the baby to learn who their mother is, while also giving emotional support to the mother and helping them get through that tough time.

There are quite a large number babies being born with birth defects, being born underdeveloped, and being born prematurely or with other illnesses every single year. For these more serious cases, the infant may be put in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU.

Some neonatal nurses are stationed here and work very hard to help these babies recover and get back to their families.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Neonatal Nurse?

On average, it will take a minimum of four years to become a fully-fledged neonatal nurse, and that is assuming that you get all of your requirements done in a timely manner and get a job right after graduation.

For other people, it may take a little bit longer due to the need of other requirements. Aside from earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, you will need to also earn a certification in one of two other specializations.

These are Neonatal Resuscitation and Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing. You will need one or the other before becoming a neonatal nurse, but getting both is even more beneficial as you will have more options in the workplace.

On top of this, you will also need to have completed sufficient clinical experience within a hospital setting before you are able to become a neonatal nurse.

This may sound like quite a lot to get done, but thankfully you can complete the certifications you need as well as earn your clinical experience while you are taking your Bachelor of Science in Nursing course.

For those who are willing and able to focus on what they need to get done and do it in a timely manner, expect to finish up all of your requirements and move on to becoming a neonatal nurse in just four years.

Being able to one or both of the certifications that are needed to become a fully-fledged neonatal nurse while still in school is a big plus, and should be taken full advantage of if you are aiming to graduate and get right into working as soon as possible.

But if you take things a bit slower or run into some difficulties along the way, you can expect to begin work as a neonatal nurse in as little as five years.

Taking a bit longer to earn all of your requirements is nothing to be ashamed of, and it could actually just be the path that you decide to take in becoming a neonatal nurse.

Just make sure that no matter which way you decide to earn these certifications and requirements, you take it seriously and understand what it is you are doing. Either way, this is still a wonderful profession and both pathways are quite fast when compared with other jobs and degrees.

The Levels Of Neonatal Nurses And NICU Nurses

As we went over earlier, it is possible for a neonatal nurse to be stationed within the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU. Although this can happen, there is still a distinction between a base level neonatal nurse and an NICU nurse.

NICU nurses are typically level III neonatal nurses who handle newborns that are suffering from very severe health problems. The complications which these infants are suffering from will require them to be placed within the neonatal intensive care unit.

The way that a neonatal nurse can become an NICU nurse is most commonly via the advancement of their positions. Starting with being a Level I neonatal nurse, then moving up to the Level II and finally Level III positions.

In general, Level I neonatal nurses will only be providing care to healthy newborns and those who are not suffering from any afflictions.

Those who hold the position of a Level II neonatal nurse will find themselves providing care to newborn infants who have been born prematurely or have a health condition that needs to be treated immediately, but is not serious enough to have them placed within the NICU.

And finally, Level III NICU nurses will typically be the only neonatal nurses who operate specifically within the NICU, dealing with newborn babies that require the most serious care and attention.

What Can You Expect When Becoming A Neonatal Nurse?

Of course, when contemplating becoming a neonatal nurse, there are a few things that you should expect to be doing. Aside from caring for newborn babies and treating their various conditions, you will also want to take into account the shifts you will have as well as the work environment.

As with any nursing profession, your hours as a neonatal nurse will most likely be anything but regular. Babies are not born on a set schedule, so expect to be called in for certain things should the hospital or clinic you are working at require staff or extra hands.

In terms of hours, expect to work an average of around 8 to 12-hour shifts every day, though this can differ depending on your place of employment and the level of neonatal nurse you are, as well as the needs of the day.

As for the work environment, you can expect from this career, you will most likely be working within a hospital or clinical setting and in labor and delivery. If you are not stationed in labor and delivery, you can be working in the postpartum maternity ward, or in the previously mentioned neonatal intensive care unit.

If you are working in a private setting, you may find yourself in a physician’s office, or in birthing centers.

Overall, the environment that surrounds the job of a neonatal nurse tends to be quite stressful, so you will need to be an individual who can keep your composure and stay calm even when the environment around you is hectic.

You will be expected to be able to provide emotional support to the families of newborns, while providing care and physical support towards the baby themselves.

Working under pressure is something that will be quite common in this field, and this means that as a neonatal nurse you cannot easily. You will need to stay calm and professional even in the most stressful of situations.break under pressure

Whenever problems arise, neonatal nurses must overcome any problem or obstacle set before them, in a quick and timely manner.

Lastly, communication skills are a must, as you will constantly be in communication with the parents of the child you are caring for, as well as the specialists and doctors who are working together with you to treat and care for the newborn.


In closing, when taking up neonatal nursing, expect to take at least four years to accrue all of your requirements as well finish up your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This is if you stay on top of things and get everything done in a timely manner.

For those who decide to take a different path, for whatever reason, may be looking at a bit of an extended amount of time to become a fully-fledged neonatal nurse, perhaps five or six years at most.

This is a very good profession for those who would truly like to help newborn babies to heal and receive the treatment that they need to be able to go home and join their new families happy and healthy.

If you have been contemplating becoming a neonatal nurse, hopefully, this article has helped to give you a bit more insight on what to expect out of the profession, how long it will take to become a neonatal nurse, and what kind of skills you will need to be a successful one.

Jonathan Holmes

Jonathan Holmes is a writer for HKS Siblab, an education and business blog. He has a MSc in Cyber Security & Digital Forensics from the University of Hertfordshire and has been working in the cyber security industry since 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing guitar and spending time with his family.

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