Neonatal Nurse Salary Guide

NurseJournal Staff
Updated September 12, 2023
Neonatal nurses work vital jobs in the healthcare industry, caring for newborn infants. Here's everything you need to know about neonatal nurse salaries.
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Neonatal nurse checking baby's heartbeat in NICUCredit: Getty Images

Many nurses work as registered nurses (RNs) in the obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) department of hospitals, caring for expectant individuals 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 $34.60 an hour.
  • Neonatal nurses provide care for the approximately 300,000 low-birth-weight infants (less than 2500 grams) born annually in the United States.
  • Working in neonatal intensive care units or pursuing neonatal certification can increase compensation.

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 2022 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.


RN Diploma


Bachelor of Science in Nursing


Master of Science in Nursing


Doctor of Nursing Practice

Source: MedScape

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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, but the gender pay gap occurs in nursing too.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women comprise 88% 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 September 2023 indicates that NICU nurses can potentially expect a salary increase of over $42,000 throughout their careers.

Highest-Paying States for Neonatal Nurses

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 $113,220; and California, where they make an average salary of $133,340. Other states with mean earnings over $90,000 include Massachusetts, Oregon, and Alaska.

In several states, the average income for RNs remains under $70,000.

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.

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 $52,000- $102,000, according to Payscale in September 2023.

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. 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 from the , for instance.
  2. 2

    Increase Education Level.

    As evidenced by MedScape’s , 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 than their RN peers and can meet with patients independently.
  3. 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. 4

    Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.

    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 $126,930, according to .

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 September 2023 suggests that entry-level NICU nurses earn an average base salary of $60,750. 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 $65,400, according to Payscale in September 2023. However, neonatal or NICU nurses who work with premature infants and babies with complications tend to earn higher salaries. Payscale figures as of September 2023 indicate that neonatal nurses earn an average salary of nearly $78,000.

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 higher-than-average salaries and a profession with an optimistic job outlook. The BLS projects that RN employment will increase by 6% from 2022-2032.

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.

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