Terms Used in the NICU

The following will help you become familiar with terms that are used in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Rancho Springs Medical Center. 

Ambu-bag The trade name for an anesthesia or oxygen bag used for delivering air and/or oxygen to the infant.

Antibodies Disease-fighting cells in blood that attack foreign substances in the body.

Apgar Score A standardized assessment of newborns done at the time of birth. Five parts of the Apgar score include: infant's heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, reflex irritability and color. Each component is given a score of one to ten based on the infant's status. The highest total score is a ten — normal is seven.

Apnea Pauses of breathing greater than 20 seconds. This is very common in premature infants. They usually outgrow it when they reach 35 to 36 weeks gestation.

Birth defects Also referred to as an anomaly or malformation, a defect existing at birth, may be an external or internal abnormality of an organ or structure.

Blood culture A laboratory test of blood to see if an infection exists. The results help determine if antibiotics are needed and which type of antibiotic would be best. The results of this test usually take at least two to three days to complete.

Blood gas A laboratory test performed on blood to determine the level of oxygen, carbon dioxide and acid present. The results help determine the correct amount of oxygen and/or ventilator support to give babies.

Blood glucose The concentration of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

Blood pressure A measure of the blood's force against the walls of arteries.

Blood sugar The concentration of sugar (glucose) in the blood.

Bradycardia A brief slowing of the heart rate below normal. This is often associated with apnea in newborns. Like apnea this is usually outgrown by the time an infant reaches 35 to 36 weeks gestation.

Breastfeeding specialists Registered nurses who have received specialized training in helping both mother and infant succeed in breastfeeding.

Breast pump A device used to help pump milk from the breast — helping to maintain milkflow and a milk supply when an infant is unable to nurse.

Bubble CPAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) A device that uses air pressure to keep tiny airway and lung air sacs open. CPAP can reduce the effort an infant needs to breathe. Bubble CPAP is delivered to an infant by short prongs placed in an infant's nostrils.

Cardio-respiratory monitor An electronic device used to monitor heart and breathing rates. The monitor sounds an alarm if either falls below or exceeds a desirable level. The monitor traces an infant's heart and respiratory rate by soft electrodes that gently stick to the skin.

Car seat study A test of an infant's heart rate and breathing pattern when properly restrained in a car seat.

Complete Blood Count (CBC) A laboratory test of blood used to measure the number of red and white blood cells as well as platelets. Often the CBC is used with a series of other tests to determine whether or not an infection is present.

Colostrum The first breast milk which is rich in protein and immune factors.

Discharge planner A staff member who works with nurses and physicians to coordinate discharge needs for infants.

Electrolytes Basic body chemicals in the blood essential for proper cell function.

Endo-tracheal tube (ET-tube) a soft flexible tube placed into the windpipe (trachea) through the mouth to support babies with breathing difficulties. A baby with an endotracheal tube is assisted by a ventilator.

ET-tube See “endo-tracheal tube.”

Family-Centered Care A philosophy of care in which care is provided with the assumption that the family is the primary source of support for anyone receiving services. Decisions will be made in an open manner — including parents in the process as much as possible.

Gavage feeding Feeding a baby through a soft tube inserted through the mouth or nose that goes into the stomach.

Gavage tube The soft tube used for a gavage feeding.

Heel stick A procedure where a tiny prick of the infant's heel is used to obtain a small amount of capillary blood for laboratory testing.

Hyperalimentation See total parental nutrition or TPN.

Incubator See “isolette.”

Infection The presence of harmful bacteria or viruses in the blood or tissues.

Intravenous line (IV) A soft thin tube inserted into a vein. The tube is inserted by a needle that is removed once the tube is in place. The tube is used to give medicine, food, and fluids directly into the blood.

Isolette (incubator) A special bed used for sick or preterm infants that can provide a warm environment. It is used mainly when an infant is unable to keep a normal body temperature without assistance.

Jaundice A condition in which skin color in newborns is yellowish due to a buildup of bilirubin in fatty tissues. This is a common condition in newborns.

Kangaroo Care The practice of holding infants with skin-to-skin contact to provide a close bond between parent and baby. This practice has shown to also enhance a newborn’s sense of well-being, stable infant vital signs and provide other benefits.

Laboratory technologists Personnel who perform tasks involved with taking blood samples.

Lactation specialists Registered nurses who have received specialized training in helping both mother and infant to succeed in breastfeeding.

Latch-on The process of getting an infant in a proper body and mouth position to achieve successful breastfeeding.

Low blood sugar When the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood is lower than normal. Low blood sugar is also referred to as hypoglycemia.

Medical social worker Behavioral health professionals who can offer emotional support and who arrange for special care or equipment needed for your infant's discharge from the hospital. A medical social worker can also communicate with your insurance company for authorization of care.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) A nursery equipped to treat newborns who are sick or premature. A NICU is staffed with neonatalogists, pediatricians, neonatal nurse practitioners, nurses, and therapists with specialized experience and training to care for these infants.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) A nurse with specialized training and a Master's degree in caring for premature and ill infants.

Neonatologist A pediatrician who has specialized training in caring for babies who are premature or ill.

Occupational therapists Professionals who have special training to care for an infant's individual developmental needs, help with positioning and feeding, and assess/assist with relating to their environment.

Oxygen bag See “ambu-bag.”

Oxygen hood A plastic container or hood which is placed over a baby's head to deliver supplemental oxygen. Also referred to an “oxyhood” or “hood.”

Pediatrician A physician with training in caring for babies and children.

Physical therapist Professionals who have special training to care for an infant's individual developmental needs, help with positioning and feeding, and assess/assist with relating to their environment.

Premature infant A term for an infant born before 37 weeks of gestation, also referred to as “preterm” or “preemie.”

Pulse-oximeter A device that uses a light sensor to give a general reading of the amount of oxygen in an infant's blood. Usually the device consists of a soft cloth with a light sensor that is wrapped around an infant's hand or foot.

Radiology technologists Personnel who take X-rays and other diagnostic images.

Respirator See “ventilator.”

Respiratory Having to do with breathing.

Respiratory problems A general term used when an infant has difficulty breathing.

Respiratory therapists Professionals who have training specific to breathing needs.

Resuscitate/Resuscitation To restore breathing and/or heart and circulatory function when either or both are not functioning correctly.

Room air challenge A study used to evaluate an infant’s response to not having supplemental oxygen.

NICU Staff Nurses Registered nurses with training to care for infants.

Total Parenteral Nutrition Also called TPN or hyperalimentation: The provision of essential nutrients (proteins, fats, sugar, vitamins and minerals) and water through an intravenous line to replace or supplement a baby's intake by mouth.

Umbilical artery An artery in the umbilical cord. There are normally two arteries in each umbilical cord.

Umbilical lines Also referred to as an umbilical catheter – a small soft tube threaded in either an umbilical artery or umbilical vein. The tube can be used for monitoring an infant's vital signs, administering fluids and medications as well as obtaining blood samples for laboratory tests.

Umbilical vein A vein in the umbilical cord. There is only one vein in the umbilical cord.

Ventilator Also called a respirator: a machine used to assist breathing and delivery of air/oxygen mixture under a small amount of pressure.

Warmer Also referred to as radiant warmer or open warmer: A type of bed with a radiant heat source above it. It is used because it allows easy access to the infant when frequent access or observation is needed.

X-ray An image of internal body parts used for diagnostic purposes.