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Newborn Intensive Care Unit

Newborn Intensive Care Unit


NICU Vocabulary

When you’re in the NICU, you may hear many technical terms the staff uses while caring for your baby. You may want to familiarize yourself with these terms to better understand the NICU environment.


Antibiotics: Medicine used to treat infection.

Apnea: A pause in breathing for 20 seconds, or shorter length of time, accompanied by a slower than normal heart rate (bradycardia), skin that has a blue tinge from lack of oxygen (cyanosis) and/or a very pale color (pallor).

Bilirubin (Bili): A substance made by the body when red blood cells are broken down. Too much Bilirubin causes neonatal jaundice, meaning that the baby’s skin will look yellow.

Blood gas: A blood test taken to measure the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and acid (pH) in the baby’s blood. This test indicates how well the baby’s lungs are working.

Bradycardia: A slowing of the baby’s heart beat below the normal levels of the resting heart rate.

IV Catheter: A tube used to administer fluids and medications.

Colostrum: Breast milk produced during the first few days after birth. Colostrum is high in antibodies that help protect the baby from infection.

Cyanosis: Blueness of the skin resulting from a lack of oxygen.

Endotracheal (ET) Tube: A soft plastic tube inserted into the baby’s mouth and down the trachea that is connected to a machine (ventilator), which helps the baby breathe.

Gavage Feeding (NG): A method of feeding in which a soft tube is inserted into the baby’s nose or mouth and into the stomach to provide food if the baby cannot suck or swallow.

Hematocrit (Crit): The percentage of red blood cells in the blood.

Isolette or Incubator: A clear, enclosed bed that provides a warm temperature-controlled environment for sick or premature babies.

Jaundice: When the baby’s skin appears yellow due to an increased amount of bilirubin in the blood.

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Meconium: A dark green or black tarry stool formed in the baby’s intestines while the baby is still in the uterus. This stool is passed as a newborn in the first few days of life.

NAS - Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: The set of symptoms that a baby has when withdrawing from opioids that his or her mother took during pregnancy

Neonate: A baby who is 30 days old or younger.

NPO: An abbreviation for “nothing by mouth,” meaning that the baby cannot receive anything through the mouth.

Premature ("preemie"): A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

PICC Line: An intravenous (IV) tube providing fluids into a large vein that can be left in place for multiple weeks.

Respirator (ventilator): A machine used to help the baby breathe.

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): A lung complication in which the baby’s air sacs (alveoli) collapse when the baby exhales due to an absence of surfactant.

Sepsis: An infection in the blood.

Sepsis workup: A series of tests that looks for sepsis in the blood, urine, spinal fluid and/or lungs.

Tachypnea: Faster than normal breathing rate.

Vital signs: Measurement of the baby’s heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate and pain assessment.

Warmer (radiant warmer): An open bed with radiant heaters above it. Warmers help warm the baby immediately after birth and allow care givers to more easily access the baby.