Neonatal Nurse 2021 Salary Guide

by NurseJournal Staff
• 6 min read

Neonatal nurses work vital jobs in the healthcare industry, caring for newborn infants. Here's everything you need to know about neonatal nurse salaries.

Neonatal Nurse 2021 Salary Guide

In This Article

Average Salary for Neonatal Nurses | What Kind of Salary Growth Can Neonatal Nurses Expect? | Highest-Paying and Lowest-Paying States for Neonatal Nurses | How Do Neonatal Nurse Salaries Compare to Other Nurses? | Ways to Increase Pay as an Neonatal Nurse | Frequently Asked Questions | Learn More


Many nurses work as registered nurses (RNs) in the obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) department of hospitals, caring for expectant mothers and newborn babies. Neonatal nurses take on even more specialized roles. They work with newborn infants with birth complications or developmental issues. Neonatal nurses' patients include premature babies and infants with defects, infections, or malformations.

Neonatal nurses earn compensation in line with other RNs. This page explores neonatal nurse salaries and the factors that can affect their pay. Our other guides explore neonatal nurse responsibilities and information on becoming a neonatal nurse.

Fast Facts About Neonatal Nurses

  • Neonatal nurses make an average of $32.80 an hour.
  • Neonatal nurses provide care for the approximately 40,000 low-birth-weight infants born annually in the United States.
  • Working in neonatal intensive care units or pursuing neonatal certification can increase compensation.

Sources: National Association of Neonatal Nurses | PayScale, May 2021

Average Salary for Neonatal Nurses

Along with other RNs, neonatal nurse salaries vary based on many factors, including education level. Neonatal nurses — sometimes called neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses — tend to earn higher salaries with more advanced degrees.

The table below uses data from MedScape's 2020 RN/LPN Compensation Report to demonstrate how education affects salary. On average, RNs with doctorates earn $14,000 more than those with bachelor's degrees in nursing.



$79,000

RN Diploma



$80,000

Bachelor of Science in Nursing



$91,000

Master of Science in Nursing



$93,000

Doctor of Nursing Practice

Source: MedScape

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COVID-19 Effects on Neonatal Nurses

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every part of the healthcare industry, including OB/GYN and NICU departments. Many hospitals have placed restrictions on parental visitation. While parents can typically spend as much time as they would like with their babies, some hospitals have narrowed that timeframe to one hour per day.

In some cases, additional use of personal protective equipment has hindered parents' and nurses' ability to carry out important skin-to-skin contact with infants.

Like other healthcare professionals, NICU nurses often meet with families through virtual video calls instead of face-to-face meetings. This can be challenging, especially in emotional situations between parents and children. Finally, social distancing has made it more difficult for nurses to provide peer support.

Neonatal Nurse Salary Disparities by Gender

We often hear about the gender pay gap in positions of leadership or male-dominated industries like technology or finance.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women comprise 87% of working RNs. Even so, male neonatal nurses earn significantly higher salaries than female nurses, as indicated in data from the Journal of Nursing Regulation.

What Kind of Salary Growth Can Neonatal Nurses Expect?

Experience also affects NICU nurse salaries. As neonatal nurses gain experience in their profession over time, they receive pay raises. Some NICU nurses find job opportunities with higher salaries at different hospitals or doctors' offices.

The chart below demonstrates how neonatal nurse salaries increase over time. Data from PayScale as of May 2021 indicates that NICU nurses can potentially expect a salary increase of over $30,000 throughout their careers.

Average Annual Salary of Neonatal Nurses by Experience

4 Ways to Increase Pay As a Neonatal Nurse

Highest-Paying and Lowest-Paying States for Neonatal Nurses in 2020

Location also significantly affects pay. Considerations like demand, the urban versus rural divide, cost of living, and government funding of certain hospitals can factor into salary.

The BLS does not provide state-specific information for neonatal nurses. However, variations in NICU nurse salaries across the country remain consistent with general RN earnings.

RNs earn average salaries of over $100,000 in two states: Hawaii, where they earn average pay of $104,830; and California, where they make an average salary of $120,560. Other states with mean earnings over $90,000 include Massachusetts, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington.

In several states, the average income for RNs remains under $70,000. The lowest-paying states include Alabama, South Dakota, Mississippi, Iowa, and Arkansas. In all of these states, RNs make mean salaries below $64,000.

How Do Neonatal Nurse Salaries Compare to Other Nurses?

Certification, level of education, and specialization can influence salaries within the RN profession. The following chart indicates that neonatal nurses earn salaries similar to nurses in comparable specialties. They might take in slightly more than professions like school or pediatric nurse.

Find Out More About How Much Nurses Earned in 2020

4 Ways to Increase Pay as an Neonatal Nurse

With so many factors influencing neonatal nurse salaries, these professionals can earn salaries within a wide range of about $49,000- $104,000, according to PayScale.

NICU nurses can take several measures to increase their income. These steps involve considerable determination. The time and financial commitment typically pay off over time with higher salaries and jobs with greater responsibilities.

1. Consider Pursuing Certifications.
Nurses can prove that they possess experience and expertise in a certain specialization through professional certification. Although nurses do not need certification to practice, pursuing these credentials can increase job prospects and help nurses negotiate for higher pay. Professionals in the field can consider pursuing certification for neonatal intensive care nursing.
2. Increase Education Level.
As evidenced by MedScape's 2020 RN/LPN Compensation Report, more advanced degrees can lead to higher earning potential. Earning a master's or doctorate also qualifies nurses to become nurse practitioners (NPs) who specialize in neonatal care. NPs earn considerably higher pay than their RN peers and can meet with patients independently.
3. Gain Experience in Administrative Roles.
Individuals in administrative nursing positions take on more responsibilities than RNs. They coordinate care and take on other leadership duties, typically earning higher salaries. Sometimes nurses pursue master's degrees in nursing administration, while others step into this role by showing initiative at their workplaces.
4. Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.
Neonatal NPs pursue master's or doctoral degrees to carry out more advanced roles. They treat patients independently and can prescribe medication without a physician's supervisory agreement in some states. In other states, NPs can still prescribe under a collaborative contract with a physician. NPs also earn more than RNs, with OB/GYN nurse practitioners making an average salary of $108,110, according to the Clinical Adviser Salary Survey.

Frequently Asked Questions: Neonatal Nurse Salaries


What is the beginning salary of a neonatal nurse?

Starting salaries vary depending on factors like location and education. PayScale data as of May 2021 suggests that entry-level NICU nurses earn an average base salary of $59,520. This amount can increase over time with experience.

How much does a newborn nurse make a year?

OB/GYN clinical nurses who work with newborns make an average salary of $61,560. However, neonatal or NICU nurses who work with premature infants and babies with complications tend to earn higher salaries. PayScale figures as of May 2021 indicate that neonatal nurses earn an average salary of nearly $69,000.

Is a neonatal nurse a good job?

Neonatal nurses often find their jobs fulfilling. They ensure the survival of new and vulnerable lives. These nurses also benefit from a higher-than-average salary and a profession with an optimistic job outlook. The BLS projects that RN employment will increase by 7% from 2019-2029.

Do NICU nurses make more money?

NICU nurses earn salaries on par with RNs as a whole. However, they can increase their salary potential over time by gaining experience or getting certification. They can also increase potential by earning a graduate degree, pursuing leadership roles, or moving to higher-paying areas or work settings.

Learn More About Neonatal Nurses

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