No place like here

New parents — and their preemies — are in good hands here in Ottawa. We take a tour of four organizations you need to know

Jared Smith’s wife (name withheld by request) holds their baby, born at 29 weeks. Photo Courtesy Jared Smith

Expecting? There’s no better place to be in than the National Capital Region, home to institutions with reputations that extend well beyond Ottawa for their contribution to the care of premature babies and their mothers.


A preterm baby is a baby born 37 weeks of age or earlier. In Canada, between eight and 12 percent of births are preterm. In 2021, approximately 4,400 infants were born before 33 weeks in Canada, and approximately 1,700 were born before 29 weeks.


All hospitals in Ottawa that have a neonatal care unit work closely together to ensure that the right level of care is available to support the community’s needs, says Rebecca Abelson, media relations officer at The Ottawa Hospital. Here’s an overview of the city’s places, spaces and services caring for preemies.


Queensway Carleton Hospital

At Queensway Carleton Hospital (QCH), all pregnant patients are provided with the contact number to the childbirth unit where they can call and speak with a nurse any time if they have any questions or concerns during their pregnancy. Patients are also able to come in and be assessed in the childbirth triage unit 24/7, where the healthcare team — which can include a physician or midwife, a nurse, an anesthesiologist, and a pediatrician — will assess, support, and educate families; and will admit or transfer to a higher level of care hospital if needed.

A pediatrician is available round the clock to attend preterm and term deliveries, to address any clinical issues; and be available for consults and 24-hour respiratory therapy services in the special care nursery staffed by specialty trained nurses.

Access to community resources and services begins as early as in the hospital where nursing staff or a public health nurse completes the Healthy Babies, Health Children Screening Tool.

After discharge, a breastfeeding clinic operates onsite with a lactation consultant available to support new parents with feeding assessments, issues, and feeding plans.

“They should know their baby and the family will receive the support, quality care and education needed to bring some ease to a very stressful situation,” says QCH’s communications officer Kelly Spence. “Your newborn — term or preterm — is our priority and we strive to provide a welcoming, safe, and caring environment for all families and newborns.”


Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario

At the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), each infant has a separate three-walled room with a place for one parent to sleep overnight. There is a dedicated social worker on-site to assist parents with any needs. Parent rooms allow families to stay overnight.

CHEO’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) clinical manager Shirley Roddick notes that the hospital is the region’s only level 3B NICU, which specializes in caring for preterm and term infants with congenital abnormalities that require surgical intervention or a consultation from an in-house specialist.


The Ottawa Hospital

The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) has a maternal-fetal medicine clinic where higher-risk OB patients are followed, says Abelson. “Patients who have a known concern with their baby may be connected to resources at CHEO and birthing plans may also be developed with specialists at CHEO. There are many resources available for families of preemies post-birth, including a neonatal follow-up clinic, and community groups such as Parents of Preemies, and the Monarch Centre.”

TOH has a Level 3 NICU and a Level 2C special care nursery and provides care for medical babies of any gestation above 22 weeks. The 24-bed neonatal intensive care unit at the General Campus cares for extremely premature infants — micro preemies born at less than 27-weeks gestation and weighing less than 800 grams. The 17-bed special care nursery at the Civic Campus cares for moderately premature infants. There are over 1,300 admissions each year to both units.

New parents of preemie babies often have many concerns, says Abelson. “Our teams of nurses, physicians, and allied health professionals are highly skilled at working with families through the early phase of a premature infant’s life and helping families adjust to a NICU environment.”


Canadian Premature Babies Foundation

Created in 2012 by a parent of a preemie child to be a voice for premature babies and their families, the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation (CPBF) focuses on the areas of parental leave, education, collaborative research, and advocacy.

“The prematurity journey does not end when the baby is discharged from hospital,” says CPBF executive director Fabiana Bacchini. “Parents who experience the NICU are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Extremely preterm babies can have neurological disorders and need to be followed-up by a multi-disciplinary team, and most babies are at a higher risk of respiratory infections due to their immature lungs. It’s important that friends and extended families support the parents and acknowledge their concerns.”



Useful websites


Some factors for premature births

  • Gestational hypertension
  • Gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic illness
  • Multiples pregnancy
  • Smoking



At QCH from left: clinical manager Shannon Adams, pediatrician Dr. Kelley Zwicker and RNs in the special care nursery Stephanie Nause and Judy Gula.
Photo Courtesy of QCH


RNs at QCH’s special care nursery Stephanie Nause (left) and Judy Gula.
Photo Courtesy of QCH