Preterm birth

In Belgium, just over 8% of babies are born before 37 weeks each year, with around 1% born before 32 weeks. Most Belgian hospitals have in-house neonatal units that can look after babies born as of 32 weeks gestation that do not need intensive care. For babies that are born before 32 weeks and/or that need intensive care, there is a well-coordinated system for transferring the baby to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

Babies that are/will be born before 32 weeks and/or that need intensive care are tranferred to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) either:

  • in utero (i.e. before the birth, the mother will be directed to the appropriate hospital) – in Brussels, thanks in part to these transfers, over 90% of babies born between 22 and 31 weeks are born in a hospital with a NICU; or

  • after birth.

Note: links to hospitals on this page are to the website, which provides information for parents whose child is hospitalised.

What happens if my baby is born early?

If your baby is born before 32 weeks or is in need of intensive care, they may be transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of:

These hospitals can look after babies from around 26 weeks gestation.

Is mum transferred too?

If you have not yet reached 32 weeks and the birth is imminent, you will probably be directed to one of the above hospitals (with the exception of Queen Fabiola hospital which is not a maternity hospital), so that your baby can get the necessary care as soon as he/she is born.

If your baby is transferred after the birth, when possible, you are transferred along with your baby, and as soon your baby comes out of intensive care, he/she returns to the neonatal unit of the hospital where he/she was born.

In the case of Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital, which does not have a maternity department, you would be transferred to the adjacent CHU Brugmann hospital.

What are facilities and care like?

Neonatal units in Belgium are of a very high standard, and special care is taken to ensure that the precious parent-baby bond is nurtured. Many follow the NIDCAP program which promotes indivisualised, developmentally supported, family-centred care.

Parents can usually visit at any time, and where possible, breastfeeding is encouraged and supported.

Multidisciplinary teams are usually on-hand, including psychologists, to provide support to families.In some NICUs, it may be possible for your baby to have his/her own room where the mother can also sleep.

Visiting a baby in neonatal care

Parents usually have unlimited visiting rights, and if they are not on-site, can telephone 24 hours a day for updates. For other visitors, visiting rights may vary depending on the hospital.

Where other visitors are allowed, this is usually limited to one person at a time, accompanied by a parent and for maximum one hour during specific visiting times. For neonatal units where babies are not in individual rooms, there is sometimes a ‘family room’ so that noise disturbance is reduced for the other babies.

Except for siblings, children under the age of 15 are often not allowed in neonatal units. Visitors who are unwell usually have to request special authorisation from the staff of the neonatal unit.

What follow-up will my baby have?

For babies at risk of developmental problems – notably those born before 32 weeks or less than 1.5kg at birth – pediatric and neurological follow-up is proposed once they are discharged.

Depending on the exact situation, this follow-up can last for many years.

Where can I find support?

The Brussels Childbirth Trust has a ‘Parents of NICU babies’ support group for parents with babies who have started their lives in the neonatal department:

They write:

“This support group is for parents of babies that started their lives in the neonatal department. For whatever reason, if your baby didn’t get to come home with you, this could be the group for you.

We also understand that being a parent of a NICU baby doesn’t end when your baby comes home. We can still feel the effects of this different start months or even years after your baby comes home.

We want to provide a safe space for parents to share their challenges and their milestones. We offer a place to share your story and ask for help.”

The group is open to BCT members. Not a member yet? Membership costs EUR 55 per family per year, and gives you access to a huge range of activities, services and support.


  1. EURO-PERISTAT Project: European Perinatal Health Report – Core indicators of the health and care of pregnant women and babies in Europe from 2015 to 2019