In the history of neonatology, it was first defined as knowledge of the human newborn. It is a word that was coined by Alexander Schaffer in 1960, though in practice neonatology has its roots in the late 1800s. Before that time there was a general consensus that critically ill and premature newborns should not receive medical treatment, but instead should be allowed to die as a process of natural selection.
This viewpoint was challenged when obstetricians Pierre Budin and his pupil Martin Couney pioneered incubators for premature infants. In the early 1900s, Dr. Julius Hess and Evelyn Lundeen developed and ran a nursery for premature infants in Chicago. It was their belief that the concepts adopted by Florence Nightingale -- regarding "warmth, rest, diet, quiet, sanitation, space, and others" -- were critical to the care of premature babies.
Despite Hess and Lundeen's advances, elsewhere in the United States progress in the development and study of neonatal science was slow. Most medical equipment manufacturers only made products for the adult or child. In the early 1960s, the nation was awakened to the plight of the premature infant when President John Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, suffered the loss of their newborn premature infant Patrick. Subsequently, pressure was put on the industry to produce products that were small enough to be used on the tiniest of patients.
In 1972 Dr, James Harrod opened Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. At that time there was no other hospital in the San Jose area providing specialized care for these fragile babies. Dr. Harrod thoughtfully taught his staff how to nurture back to health the premature and critically ill infants that came to the NICU. Since that time the NICU has grown to 40 beds and has set a standard of excellence for neonatal care throughout the community and beyond.