Science and Compassion Combine to Save the Sickest Babies, Prevent Preterm Birth

Every parent of a newborn who ever needed intensive care knows that the journey can be a roller coaster of emotions. Melissa and Paul Kingma know this experience from both sides now: as clinicians who work every day to save babies and as parents of a child that needed such care.

Paul Kingma, MD, PhD, is Neonatal Director at the Cincinnati Fetal Center, one of the few centers in the world capable of the full range of advanced procedures that can be performed for infants still in the womb. Melissa is a nurse practitioner who also works at Cincinnati Children’s taking care of the sickest babies in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

In 2017, at 20 weeks into pregnancy, the Kingmas learned that their own baby daughter Elle had a life-threatening genetic condition called micrognathia. Infants with this condition have unusually small lower jaws, which can result in the tongue crowding back into the throat and cutting off that precious first breath.

Becoming a patient family was a sobering and rewarding role reversal for the couple. But thanks to careful planning before delivery, skillful treatment at the moment of birth, and advanced follow-up care, Elle and her parents have survived the ordeal. Their successful experience was one of thousands that occur each year at a neonatology program that ranks No. 5 in the nation in the 2018-19 list of Best Children’s Hospitals published by U.S. News & World Report.

Our Division of Neonatology is part of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s, which also includes our divisions of Perinatal BiologyReproductive SciencesPulmonary BiologyDevelopmental Biology and the Cincinnati Fetal Center.

We provide care to more than 24,000 newborns a year at 14 hospitals in and near Cincinnati. We also care for more than 3,000 critically ill infants a year at five neonatal intensive care units. We support the tiniest preterm infants and we provide advanced surgical care to newborns with the rarest, most complex birth defects.

Ideally, a growing wave of exciting scientific and community-based advances will sharply reduce the demand for advanced neonatal care. But until that day, the sickest and smallest newborns will need compassionate care, says James Greenberg, MD, Co-Director of the Perinatal Institute.

“One of the unique aspects of our program is that we are making progress on both sides of the equation. We making real breakthroughs in understanding the individual illnesses and genetic factors that can lead to preterm birth. We also are finding ways to address more of the social, cultural, environmental and economic factors involved.”

 For the Kingmas, their personal experience has deepened their empathy for fellow parents.

“I think from a mom standpoint I understand the stresses of what it is to have a baby in the NICU. When things don’t go like they are supposed to go, moms automatically blame themselves,” Melissa says. “That deeper understanding has made me a lot more empathetic. I approach the way I talk to families differently now.”

Why We Stand Out

  • Our regional newborn care system is unique in the United States. By serving all of the major birthing centers in Greater Cincinnati, we get a bird’s-eye view of the care provided to an entire community of newborns and we can introduce innovations at a wider scale than most other neonatology programs.
  • Our fetal surgery program is the largest of its kind in the U.S., successfully treating a growing number of conditions once thought impossible to attempt before giving birth.
  • Our Familial Preterm Birth Clinic helps women at high risk of preterm delivery with preconception counseling, early pregnancy planning and other strategies to prevent early labor and premature birth.
  • We are international leaders in developmental and reproductive research. Experts in our Center for Prevention of Preterm Birth recently completed a breakthrough study that analyzed data from more than 50,000 women to track down six gene loci that play important roles in birth timing and preterm birth. Experts here also are discovering more about the earliest stages of conception and developing new ways to prevent lung and kidney development from being interrupted by premature birth.
  • Our leadership of the Cradle Cincinnati collaborative coordinates regional interventions to eliminate smoking during pregnancy, promotion of safe sleep practices, and education about optimal pregnancy spacing for healthy birth outcomes.  The results include a recent 15 percent decline in infant mortality in Hamilton County—the fastest decline of any urban center in Ohio.

Our Scorecard


U.S. News & World Report scored our Neonatology program 5th in the nation on outcomes & experience; numbers of patients & procedures; key programs, services & staff; professional recognition; quality improvement efforts; and patient support.

Learn more about our ranking.