A medical career working with babies can be challenging and rewarding. The specific career you choose depends on whether you prefer to work with medically fragile babies, or healthy newborns that might not need as much hands-on care. You also need to consider the amount of schooling involved, and which specific aspects of infant care appeal to you.
A neonatologist is a doctor who deals with premature or critically ill babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, of a hospital. This type of doctor not only has an M.D. from an accredited medical program, but has also completed a pediatric residency and internship and a separate neonatal fellowship. Neonatologists work closely with the families of infants in the NICU with a goal of stabilizing these babies and getting them healthy enough to go home.
A pediatrician differs from a neonatologist in that a pediatrician typically treats full-term, healthy babies, as well as older children. A pediatrician usually works in a doctor's office, though some may be employed by a hospital to assess newborn infants and administer a baby's first checkup. Pediatricians have a medical degree and complete a residency and internship dealing with pediatric medicine. Some pediatricians specialize in specific areas, such as pediatric dermatology or pediatric surgery.
A neonatal nurse supports the neonatologist and takes care of the babies in the NICU. This may include setting up IVs or feeding tubes, monitoring vital signs, administering medication and cleaning the babies. A pediatric nurse on staff in a maternity ward has similar duties, but deals mainly with healthy, full-term babies. Other pediatric nurses might work at a clinic with a pediatrician. Nurses can have a L.P.N. or R. N. degree, and must pass a national exam to be certified.
A neonatal physical therapist works at a hospital helping babies who have special motor needs, including premature infants and babies with birth defects. They evaluate and treat a baby's physical issues and teach parents how to exercise the baby's muscles and joints once the family goes home from the hospital. Neonatal respiratory therapists work with babies who have respiratory problems at birth. Neonatal therapists typically have a master's degree in their specialty.
A lactation consultant works with breastfeeding mothers and their babies to ensure that the breastfeeding relationship is progressing well. A lactation consultant might have an independent practice and make house calls to help correct any breastfeeding problems, or she might work at a hospital, giving breastfeeding classes and assessing the breastfeeding techniques of new mothers to ensure proper latch and adequate milk consumption. A board-certified lactation consultant has completed coursework specific to breastfeeding and passed a certification exam.