Following are explanations of some of the most common terms you may hear while your baby is in the NICU. Be sure to ask your caregivers about any terms you do not understand.
ANEMIA — An abnormally low number of red blood cells (the cells that carry oxygen) in the blood.
ANOMALY — A congenital malformation of a part of the body.
ANOXIA — A lack of oxygen.
APNEA — A temporary stop or pause in breathing.
ARMBOARD — A splint that helps prevent IV lines from being knocked out.
ARTERIAL LINE — A catheter placed in the baby's artery to deliver fluids, nutrients, medicines, or blood.
ASPIRATION — Inhalation of a material (such as formula, meconium, stomach contents, or blood) into the lungs. May cause aspiration pneumonia.
ATELECTASIS — A condition in which part of the lungs have collapsed.
ATTENDING PHYSICIAN — The physician in charge of your baby's care. In the NICU, the attending physician in a neonatologist.
BAGGING — Pumping air and/or oxygen into the baby's lungs by squeezing a bag attached to a mask that covers the baby's nose and mouth.
BILILIGHTS — Special lights placed above a baby's bed to treat jaundice.
BILIRUBIN — A yellowish-red pigment produced when red blood cells break down. Too much bilirubin in the blood causes jaundice.
BLOOD GAS — A sampling of blood from an artery for its oxygen, carbon dioxide, and acid content.
BPD (BRONCHOPULMONARY DYSPLASIA) — A lung problem that occurs in some premature babies and requires treatment with oxygen or a breathing machine for a long time.
BRADYCARDIA — A slower-than-normal heart rate, usually less than 100 beats per minute for infants. Bradycardia usually occurs with apnea.
CATHETER — A thin tube used to administer fluids to the body or drain fluids from the body.
CAT SCAN (COMPUTERIZED AXIAL TOMOGRAPHY) — A type of imaging study that produces pictures that give a 3D view of the body's organs and structures.
CENTRAL LINE — An intravenous (IV) line that is threaded through a vein until it reaches a position as close as possible to the heart.
CPAP (CONTINUOUS POSITIVE AIRWAY PRESSURE) — Pressurized air, sometimes with added oxygen, that is delivered to the baby's lungs to keep the lungs expanded as the baby inhales and exhales.
CYANOSIS — A blue or "dusky" color of the skin caused by poor circulation or low oxygen levels in the blood.
DIETITIAN — A health care professional with special knowledge about the nutrients required for healthy growth and development.
DUCTUS ARTERIOSUS — A blood vessel located just outside the heart, which allows the blood to bypass the lungs while the baby is still in the womb. After birth, the ductus arteriosus should close, directing the blood flow through the baby's lungs.
DYSPNEA — Difficulty breathing.
EDEMA — Fluid retention in the body tissues, which causes puffiness or swelling. Often seen in the baby's eyelids, feet, and hands.
ELECTRODES — Devices attached to adhesive pads that are placed on a baby's body to conduct the electrical impulses of the heart and breathing motions to a monitoring machine.
ESOPHAGUS — The passage leading from the mouth to the stomach.
ET (ENDOTRACHEAL) TUBE — A thin, plastic tube inserted into the baby's windpipe to allow the delivery of air and/or oxygen to the baby's lungs.
FELLOW — A doctor undergoing specialty training in newborn intensive care.
GASTROENTEROLOGIST — A doctor who specializes in disorders of the digestive system.
GAVAGE FEEDING — Feedings given through a tube passed through the baby's nose or mouth and into the stomach.
GENETICIST — A doctor who specializes in the study and treatment of disorders or conditions that tend to run in families.
GESTATIONAL AGE — The baby's age (in weeks) from the first day of the mother's last menstrual period until the baby is born.
GLUCOSE — A type of sugar that circulates in the blood and provides the body with energy.
GRAM — A unit for measuring weight. One gram equals 1/28 of an ounce. One pound equals 454 grams.
HAL (HYPERALIMENTATION) — A method of providing a solution containing essential nutrients (sugar, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals) through an IV line to supplement a baby's intake by mouth.
HEEL STICK — The procedure of pricking a baby's heel to obtain small amounts of blood for testing.
HEMATOLOGIST — A doctor who specializes in the treatment of blood problems.
HYALINE HYPERGLYCEMIA — Abnormally high glucose (sugar) levels in the blood.
HYPOGLYCEMIA — Abnormally low glucose (sugar) levels in the blood.
HYPOVOLEMIA — An abnormally low volume of blood in the body.
HYPOXIA — Not enough oxygen.
IMAGING STUDIES — Tests and exams that involve taking pictures of the body's internal organs. Includes x-rays, ultrasound exams, CAT scans, and MRIs.
IMMATURE — Used to describe a baby born before 37 weeks gestation and weighing below 2500 grams (about 5½ pounds).
INCUBATOR (OR ISOLETTE) — A small bed enclosed in plastic, which keeps the baby's body warm and at an even temperature.
INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST — A doctor who specialized in the treatment of contagious diseases.
INFILTRATED IV — An accumulation of IV fluids in the tissues surrounding the vein.
INFUSION PUMP — A pump attached to an intravenous (IV) line to deliver IV fluids to the baby in tiny, precisely measured amounts.
INTERN — A doctor undergoing specialty training in neonatal intensive care.
INTUBATION — The insertion of a tube into the baby's windpipe to allow air to reach the lungs.
IVH (INTRAVENTRICULAR HEMORRHAGE) — Bleeding into the brain.
IV (INTRAVENOUS) — IV stands for intravenous, meaning "into a vein." Both nutrients and medicine can be delivered through an IV.
IV PUMP — An IV pump is a machine that is placed on the counter or attached to a pole by your baby's bed. The pump allows your caregivers to program the exact amount of nutrients or other materials delivered to your baby. An alarm on the IV pump may be set to go off at regular intervals to remind your baby's nurse to check that everything is working correctly.
JAUNDICE — The yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, caused by excessive levels of bilirubin in the blood.
KANGAROO CARE — Holding your baby next to your body, skin-to-skin.
LACTATION CONSULTANT — Healthcare provider with advanced training and certification in breastfeeding management.
LANUGO — The fine, downy hair that covers the unborn baby from about the fourth or fifth month in the womb, and disappears toward full term. Lanugo is often still present on premature babies.
LAZY EYE — See amblyopia.
LOW BIRTH WEIGHT — A weight at birth of less than 2500 grams (about 5½ pounds).
LUMBAR PUNCTURE — A procedure involving the insertion of a hollow needle between the bones of the lower back to withdraw fluid. May be performed to reduce pressure or to check for the presence of an infection.
LUNG INFILTRATES — Fluid or other foreign substances in the alveoli of the lungs, which are seen as fuzzy areas on a baby's chest x-ray.
MATURE — Used to describe a baby born at 37-42 weeks gestation and weighing above 2500 grams (about 5½ pounds).
MECONIUM — A dark green material in the intestine at birth. The first stool the baby passes.
MECONIUM ASPIRATION — When the baby inhales meconium in the amniotic fluid. May result in lung problems.
MEMBRANE DISEASE — See RDS (respiratory distress syndrome).
MENINGITIS — Inflammation or infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
MRI (MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING) — A type of imaging study taken when doctors need to learn more than they can learn from an x-ray or an ultrasound.
MURMUR — Sound made by abnormal blood flow through the heart or blood vessels. A murmur is often heard with a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA).
NASAL CANNULA — A flexible, hollow tube with two small prongs that fit below the baby's nose and deliver a steady stream of oxygen.
NASAL PRONGS — A tube with two small prongs that fit inside the baby's nostrils to deliver a steady stream of oxygen.
NEC (NECTROTIZING ENTEROCOLITIS) — A problem with the intestines (part of the digestive system), for which the cause is not really known. With NEC, the lining of the intestinal wall dies and the tissue sloughs off.
NEONATAL — A word meaning "near the time of birth."
NEONATAL NURSE PRACTITIONER (NNP) — A nurse with advanced training in the care of newborn babies, especially ill, premature, or high-risk newborns.
NEONATOLOGIST — A pediatrician with specialty training in the care of sick newborns.
NEUROLOGIST — A doctor who specializes in disorders of the brain and nervous system.
NG (NASOGASTRIC) FEEDINGS/TUBE — Feedings that are given through a small, flexible tube (an NG tube) inserted through the nose and down the esophagus into the stomach.
NPO — Means "not by mouth." If a baby is too small or sick to take in food by mouth, he is referred to as "NPO." In this case, the baby will need to receive nutrition through an IV line.
OG (OROGASTRIC) FEEDINGS/TUBE — Feedings that are given through a small, flexible tube (an OG tube) inserted through the mouth and down the esophagus into the stomach.
OPEN WARMER— A heated table that helps keep the baby warm.
OR — Operating room.
OTOLOGIST — A doctor who specializes in disorders of the ear.
OXYGEN SATURATION MONITOR — See pulse oximeter.
OXIMETER — See pulse oximeter.
OXYGEN MASK — This mask is placed over the baby's nose and mouth. Oxygen flows through a tube and into the mask at a constant rate.
OXYGEN HOOD/HEAD BOX — This clear plastic box is placed over your baby's head. Oxygen flows into it from a tube attached to a source of oxygen. This hood is used for babies who can breathe on their own, but still need extra oxygen.
PDA (PATENT DUCTUS ARTERIOSUS) — An open (patent) ductus arteriosus. If the PDA doesn't close, the baby may need fluid restrictions, medicine, or surgery to repair it.
PEDIATRICIAN — A doctor who specializes in the care of infants and children.
PEEP (POSITIVE END EXPIRATORY PRESSURE) — A treatment used to prevent parts of the lung from collapsing when a baby exhales.
PERINATAL — A term used to describe the period shortly before and after birth.
PERINATOLOGIST — A doctor who specializes in complicated pregnancies and deliveries.
PERIODIC BREATHING — Breathing interrupted by pauses as long as 10 to 20 seconds. Periodic breathing is common in both premature and full-term newborns.
PERIPHERAL LINE — A peripheral line is an IV that is placed into an arm, hand, leg, foot, or scalp. To place a peripheral line, a small needle is inserted into a small vein that is close to the skin surface. Once in place, the needle is removed and a catheter (small hollow tube) remains in place.
PHARMACIST — A specialist in preparing and delivering medications.
PHOTOTHERAPY — Treatment of infants with jaundice by exposing them to bright lights called "bili lights."
PICC (PERIPHERALLY INSERTED CENTRAL CATHETER) — A common type of central line that is inserted through the skin, usually through a vein in the neck or in the bend of the arm. It is then guided into a large vein that takes it directly into the heart. Complications that may occur with insertion of a PICC line include infection, an irregular heartbeat, bleeding, and breaking or plugging of the catheter. The line may need to be removed if any of these occur.
PIE (PULMONARY INTERSTITIAL EMPHYSEMA) — A condition in which air bubbles are forced out of the tiny air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs and in between the layers of lung tissue.
PNEUMOGRAM — A study that involves monitoring of a baby's breathing and heart rate during sleep to detect abnormal breathing patterns.
PNEUMONIA — A lung infection that causes fluid to collect, making breathing difficult.
PNEUMOTHORAX — A collection of air in the chest resulting from a rupture in the lung.
POSTPARTUM — After delivery.
PREMATURE — A term used to describe a baby born before 37 weeks gestation.
PRENATAL — Before birth.
PULMONARY HYPERTENSION — An inability of the blood vessels in the baby's lungs to relax and open up normally after birth, resulting in poor circulation through the lungs and not enough oxygen in the blood.
PULSE OXIMETER — A probe that is placed on your baby's foot or hand with a sticker. This probe has a red light that tells how well your baby is moving oxygen through his body. An alarm will sound if the oxygen level (called "sats" for "saturation") is too low or too high. This will tell the nurse if your baby needs more or less oxygen. The "sats" will vary, but should be above 90%.
RADIOLOGIST — A doctor with special training in the use of x-rays and other imaging studies for diagnosis and treatment.
RBCs (RED BLOOD CELLS) — The cells in the blood that contain a substance called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen.
RDS (RESPIRATORY DISTRESS SYNDROME) — A disorder in which there is a tendency for the tiny air sacs (called alveoli) in the lung to collapse as the baby exhales. This was previously called hyaline membrane disease. This condition is common in premature babies because their lungs haven't developed enough to work on their own.
REFLUX — When food in the baby's stomach backs up into the esophagus.
RESIDENT — A doctor in the second or third year of pediatric specialty training.
RESPIRATOR (VENTILATOR) — A machine to help a baby breathe.
RESPIRATORY THERAPIST — A health care professional trained in the care of the lungs.
RETINA — The part of the eye that records what we see and sends images to the brain.
RETRACTIONS — When the lungs fail to fully inflate as the baby inhales. The chest wall is pulled in as the baby uses chest and abdominal muscles to breathe.
ROP (RETINOPATHY OF PREMATURITY) — An eye problem in which the back of the eye (the retina) may be injured and special treatment needed.
RSV (RESPIRATORY SYNCYTIAL VIRUS) — A common virus that can result in serious lung disease for premature infants or infants with lung problems.
SATURATION MONITOR — See pulse oximeter.
SEIZURES — A condition in which the brain's electrical impulses "short circuit," causing the body to tense up. The baby may lose consciousness for a few moments during a seizure. Seizures have a variety of causes.
SEPSIS — An infection in the blood and other tissues that can affect the baby's whole body.
SGA (SMALL FOR GESTATIONAL AGE) — A baby who is born under the normal weight range for his gestational age.
SUCTION CATHETER — A small tube used to remove mucus from the nose and throat, or from an ET tube.
SURFACTANT — A substance formed in the lungs which helps keep the small air sacs (alveoli) from collapsing and sticking together.
TACHYCARDIA — An abnormally fast heart rate, usually greater than 160 beats per minute in infants.
TACHYPNEA — An abnormally fast breathing rate, usually above 60 breaths per minute in infants.
TCM (TRANSCUTANEOUS MONITOR) — A machine that measures the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the baby's blood through the skin.
TPN (TOTAL PARENTERAL NUTRITION — A method of providing a solution containing essential nutrients (sugar, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals) through an IV line to supplement a baby's intake by mouth.
TRACHEA — The windpipe—the tube that extends from the throat to the lungs.
TRACHEOSTOMY — A surgical opening in the trachea, below the voice box, made to allow air to enter the lungs when the throat becomes obstructed.
TUBE FEEDING — See gavage feeding.
UAC (UMBILICAL ARTERY CATHETER) — A small, flexible plastic tube inserted through a blood vessel in the infant's navel. It can be used to obtain blood samples, provide nutrition, administer blood and medication, and monitor blood pressure.
ULTRASOUND — A type of imaging study that uses echoes of sound waves to produce a picture of the body's tissues.
UVC (UMBILICAL VEIN CATHETER) — The same as an umbilical artery catheter (UAC), except in a vein rather than an artery.
VENTILATOR — See respirator.
VENTRICLES — Fluid-filled spaces of the brain.
VITAL SIGNS — Heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and amount of oxygen in the blood.
X-RAY — An x-ray is the most common type of imaging scan. An x-ray can show the condition of the lungs and other organs, and check the positions of any tubes or catheters inside your baby's body.
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