Words You Might Hear in the NICU

While your baby is in the NICU you might hear physicians, nurses and other medical professionals discussing medical conditions, various procedures or the equipment we use.  The following list includes some of the words or phrases you might overhear or that your baby’s physician may discuss with you.

Acidosis: An excess of acid in the body.

Abdominal film: An x-ray picture of the abdomen showing the stomach and intestines.

Anemia: A low concentration of red blood cells.

Antibiotics: Medications that kill bacteria or slow their growth; used in treating bacterial infections.

Apnea: Irregular or absent breathing.

Aspiration: Breathing in of a substance (milk, meconium or stomach fluids) into the windpipe (trachea) and lungs.

Bagging: A procedure used to temporarily help a baby breathe. This procedure requires use of a device which is carefully placed over the baby’s mouth, nose and/or endotracheal tube to push oxygen into his or her lungs.

Bicarb (Sodium Bicarbonate): Medication given intravenously to treat acidosis.

Bili-lights: See Phototherapy

Bilirubin: A breakdown product of red blood cells which can cause jaundice, a yellowing of the skin color; The bilirubin is measured by a blood test and/or transcutaneous(skin) monitor.

Blood gas: A blood test which tells how much oxygen, carbon dioxide, and acid are in baby’s blood. The results of this test are used to make changes in the respirator settings or oxygen given to the baby.

Blood pressure: Measure of heart and circulatory function.

Bradycardia:  Slow heart rate, usually a heart rate less than 80; Often goes along with apnea or other breathing problems and prematurity.

Calcium: A chemical element which is necessary for the normal function of several systems of the body such as the heart, nerves and bone.

Central Venous Catheter (CVC): A catheter threaded into a major vein. The tip of this catheter usually empties directly into the heart. The catheter is used to provide fluid and nutrition when a baby cannot eat. May be referred to as a Broviac, central or PICC line.

Chest film: An x-ray picture of the chest showing the heart and lungs.

Chest Physiotherapy (CPT): Gentle percussion, vibration and suctioning to help remove mucus from the airways.

Chest tube: A small plastic tube placed inside the chest cavity to remove trapped air or fluid and allows the lungs to expand properly. A chest tube is most often used to treat a pneumothorax (collapsed lung).

Circumcision: The procedure of removing the foreskin from the penis.

CPAP: (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) Putting a small steady amount of pressure into a baby’s windpipe and lungs to help keep the lungs expanded.

Crit: See Hematocrit.

Culture: A laboratory test used to screen for infection of various body fluids. It usually takes 2-3 days to obtain the results of these cultures.

Cutdown: A catheter inserted into a vein or artery by a tiny incision made in the skin. It is used to give intravenous fluids and/or to obtain blood samples.

Cyanosis: A bluish discoloration of the skin and lips due to a low oxygen blood level.

Desat: short for desaturation, which refers to a drop in the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood, measured by a machine called a pulse oximeter.

Distended abdomen: Unusual swelling of the abdomen. It may mean the baby is having trouble digesting milk, or has an obstruction in the intestine.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR): An order written by the doctor, at the request of the family, not to revive an infant.

Echocardiogram: Also called Echo, a test using ultrasound equipment to look at the heart and how it is working.

Electrocardiogram (EKG): A record of the electrical current produced by the heart muscle used to help assess the heart’s structure and function.

Electroencephalogram (EEG): A record of the electrical activity of the brain which can provide information about brain function.

Electrodes: Small patches that stick to the baby’s skin to send signals to a monitor about the baby’s heart rate and breathing.

Electrolytes: Certain body chemicals or salts (e.g., sodium, potassium and chloride) which must be present in normal concentrations for optimal function of all cells.

Endotracheal tube (ET Tube): A breathing tube inserted into the trachea (windpipe) through the mouth and hooked up to a respirator to help the baby breathe.

Exchange transfusion: A procedure which exchanges the baby’s blood with new blood. This procedure is only necessary with very high bilirubin levels.

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO): A heart-lung bypass utilized to improve oxygen delivery to certain critically ill babies.

Extubate: A procedure in which a breathing tube is removed from the trachea.

Gavage feeding:  Feeding the baby breast milk or formula through a small tube that is passed from the baby’s mouth or nose into the stomach. This type of feeding will be used until the baby is strong enough and mature enough to feed from the breast or bottle.

Gestational age: The length of time from conception to birth. Full term gestational age is 37-42 weeks.

Glucose: A simple kind of sugar which is needed by the body’s cells for energy. When a baby is not able to be fed by mouth because of illness or prematurity, glucose must be given by IV.

Gram (gm): The basic unit of weight in the metric system; 30 grams equal 1 ounce

Head Ultrasound: A test using ultrasound equipment to look at the brain and the fluid around the brain.

Heart failure: Failure of the heart to pump normally.

Heel stick: A small puncture or cut made in the baby’s heel to get a blood sample.

Hematocrit: A test to measure the concentration of red blood cells in the blood.

High Frequency Ventilator (HFV): A high-frequency breathing machine that provides rapid breaths to certain critically ill babies.

Hood: A clear plastic hood placed over the baby’s head into which warm, moist oxygen is delivered at regulated concentrations.

Hyperalimentation: Also known as Total Parenteral Nutrition, or TPN, hyperallimentation is an intravenous nutritional fluid given to infants to help them grow.

Hypercalcemia: A blood calcium level above normal.

Hyperglycemia: A blood sugar level above normal.

Hypertension: High blood pressure.

Hypocalcemia: A blood calcium level below normal.

Hypoglycemia: A blood sugar level below normal

Hypotension: Low blood pressure.

Incubator: A special type of enclosed bed that regulates the baby’s temperature and provides noise reduction.

Intramuscular (IM): A method for giving medication into the muscle.

Intravenous (IV): A method for giving medication and/or fluids into a vein.
Intubate: A procedure in which a breathing tube is placed into the trachea. The patient is then placed on mechanical ventilation.

Intravenous Line (IV): A tiny catheter or needle put into the baby’s vein to give fluids and medicine.

Jaundice: The yellow color of the skin caused by too much bilirubin in the blood.

Kilogram (kg): A unit of weight in the metric system; One kilogram equals to 2.2 pounds.

Large for Gestational Age (LGA): Refers to a baby who is bigger than most babies of the same gestational age.

Leads: A set of wires placed on a baby’s skin that connect to a monitor which records heart rates and respirations.

Lumbar Puncture (LP): Insertion of a small needle through the back into the spinal canal to obtain a sample of spinal fluid. Also called a spinal tap.

Meconium: The first bowel movement that the baby passes which is a thick very dark green substance.

Medical rounds: The daily meeting of doctors, nurses, you and other hospital personnel to discuss your baby’s condition and treatment.

Monitor equipment: used to continuously measure the baby’s heart and breathing rate.

Murmur: An abnormal heart sound that can be heard with a stethoscope.

Nasal Cannula: A small tube taped on the baby’s face through which extra oxygen can be given into the baby’s nose for him / her to breathe.

Nasogastric Tube (NG Tube): A plastic tube which is passed through the nose into the stomach and is used for giving feedings and medicines, or for removing stomach fluids.

Nebulizer: A device which adds moisture to the air or oxygen that may be used in your infant’s breathing treatments.

Neonatology: The pediatric sub-specialty concerned with medical issues of the newborn baby.

Nitric Oxide (iNO): An inhaled gas therapy which increases blood flow to the lungs and improves blood oxygen levels.

NPO: An abbreviation meaning the baby cannot be fed by mouth.

02: (Oxygen) referred to as “oh-two”. Room air contains 21% oxygen. Babies with breathing problems need extra oxygen, sometimes up to 100% oxygen.

Orogastiric (OG) tube: A small tube that passes through the baby’s mouth down into the stomach. Fluid or medicine can be given through the tube. The tube can also be used to remove stomach contents or air.

One Touch®: A test for blood sugar that uses a small amount of blood from a finger, toe or heel.

Oximeter: A machine that can measure the amount of oxygen being carried in the baby’s blood by using a special sensor that is taped to the baby’s hand or foot. May also be called pulse oximeter, pulse ox, or sat monitor.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA): Failure of a heart blood vessel to close after birth. This may require medical or surgical closure.

PH: Measurement of the amount of acid in the blood.

PCO2: A measure of the carbon dioxide in the blood.

Phototherapy: Fluorescent light therapy which is used to treat jaundice.

Pneumonia: Inflammation of the lungs which may be caused by infection.

Pneumothorax: A collapsed lung caused by air escaping from the lung into the area between the lung and the chest wall.

PO: An abbreviation meaning to deliver by mouth or with feeding.

PO2: A measure of the oxygen in the blood.

Polycythemia: Too many red blood cells in the blood.

Postmature: Refers to gestational age of over 42 weeks

Premature: Refers to gestational age of less that 37 weeks.

Potassium: One of the body’s electrolytes.

Pulse Oximetry: Measures blood oxygen content through the skin.
Red blood cells: The cells in the blood which contain hemoglobin and carry oxygen.

Report: Discussion between nurses at change of shift times in which important information about the babies’ care is passed along to help your baby receive consistent care.

Residual: The amount of formula remaining in a baby’s stomach after a feeding. Also called an aspirate. This helps the nurses and doctors to know if the baby is digesting food well.

Respirator: See Ventilator

Respiratory Distress: Extra work or trouble with breathing.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS): A common breathing problem for premature babies in which some of the tiny air sacs in the lungs collapse as the baby breathes out. This makes extra work for the baby’s breathing. The baby might need extra oxygen or help from a respirator until the lungs become more mature.

Retracting: The "pulling in" of a baby’s chest during breathing.

Room Air: The air we all breathe which has an oxygen concentration of 21%.

Sat: Short for saturation which refers to the percentage of red blood cells that are carrying oxygen in the blood, measured by a pulse oximeter.

Sepsis: An infection in the blood or body tissues.

Sodium: One of the salts that are needed to help body cells work at their best.

Small for Gestational Age (SGA):  Refers to a baby that is smaller than most babies of the same gestational age.

Spinal tap: See Lumbar Puncture (LP)

Stool: Bowel movement.

Suction: Removing mucus from the nose and throat or from an endotracheal tube or the stomach.

Surfactant: A substance lining the lungs, which is often absent or decreased with infants in respiratory distress. Surfactant is also a medication which is instilled in the lungs as part of treatment.

Tachypnea: A breathing rate that is faster than normal. Most newborn babies breathe 30-60 times a minute.

Temp Probe: A thin wire taped to the baby’s skin used to monitor the baby’s temperature.

Total parenteral nutrition (TPN): See hyperalimentation.

Transcutaneous Monitor (TCM): A monitor with a special sensor that is placed on the skin to provide a continuous reading of oxygen or carbon dioxide in the blood.

Trachea: Windpipe

Transfusion: Giving blood or certain blood products to the baby through an IV. The blood used for transfusions in the NICU is screened carefully to be safe for babies.

Umbilical Artery Catheter (UAC):  A small plastic tube placed into a main artery in the body through one of the arteries in the umbilical cord. A UAC can be used to take blood samples, to give IV fluids or to monitor blood pressure.

Umbilical Venous Catheter (UVC): A small plastic tube placed into a main vein in the body through the vein in the umbilical cord. A UVC can be used to give IV fluids and medications.

Ventilator: Also called a vent or a respirator. A machine which gives extra pressure, breaths, and oxygen into the baby’s lungs, through an endotracheal tube, to help with breathing.

Warmer: A special bed with an overhead heater, which keeps the baby’s temperature controlled.

White blood cells: The blood cells that help fight infection.