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Glossary of Common NICU Terms


Less red blood cells than normal, anemia can cause breathing problems, high heart rate, decreased energy and poor growth.

Apnea  (or "A&B" )

An episode in which the infant has a pause in breathing greater than 20 seconds. This may result in color change and a slow heart rate (bradycardia). Apnea is very common in premature infants.

Arterial Line

A tiny catheter that is inserted into an artery to measure blood pressure, give IV fluids and take blood sampling.


When red blood cells are broken down, a yellow substance called bilirubin is released. When the bilirubin builds up in the body it turns the skin a yellow color. This is called jaundice.


Blood pressure.

BPD (Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia)

Scarring and chronic injury in a preemie’s lungs. BPD is caused by mechanical ventilation and supplemental oxygen.

Bradycardia (or "Brady")

A slower than normal heart rate. In premature babies, usually a heart rate of less than 100 is considered a Brady.  Bradycardia often results in apnea.



A procedure in which a fiber-optic scope is used to visualize the baby’s trachea and bronchi (large airways of the lungs). This procedure is done to determine if there is a problem that is making breathing difficult.

Central Line

A long term IV that is placed in a large, deep, blood vessel close to the heart.


Chest physiotherapy (vibrating or tapping on the chest). This helps loosen the secretions in the baby’s lungs.

Cerebral Palsy

Caused by permanent brain injury - a baby’s muscles don’t move in a normal or coordinated way.


Colostrum is the first milk expressed - it is yellow and thick - rich in proteins and antibodies.


Continuous positive airway pressure.  It helps keep the air sacs in the lungs open, therefore preventing them from collapsing.  It is administered by nasal prongs.


Discoloration of the skin caused by decreased oxygenation; bluish grayish color.

Developmental Care

A way to care for premature infants based on their individual needs helping keep them as free from stress as possible.

Developmental Delays

Developmental delays are a frequent occurrence in the premature infant. These are milestones (developmental) that preemies do not reach at the same rate as other children. They may be temporary or permanent.

Endotrachial Tube (or "ET Tube")

A tube that is placed down the mouth into the windpipe that sends air directly into the lungs.

Gastroesophogeal Reflux (or "GER")

This is when food in the stomach comes back up into the esophagus and sometimes out the mouth.

Gavage Feeding

Feeding a baby through a soft feeding tube that is placed in the nose or mouth that goes directly to the stomach.


A test used to see if there is non-visible blood in the baby’s stool.


This is when cerebrospinal fluid builds up inside the ventricles of the brain. In premature infants this can occur after a severe intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH).


High level of sugar in the blood.


Low level of sugar in the blood.


A lower body temperature than normal.


Also known as an incubator. It is a heated plastic box that is used to keep premature babies warm.

Intrautermine Growth Retardation (or "I.U.G.R.")

A medical term for poor fetal growth in the womb. It may lead to a medically necessary preterm delivery.

IVH - Intraventricular Hemorrhage

Bleeding that occurs in an inner part of the brain, near the ventricles. Premature babies have very fragile blood vessels in the brain that can rupture.


When the babies skin turns a yellowish tinge. This is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the body.

Kangaroo Care

Holding your baby skin to skin, against the bare chest, like a baby kangaroo in his mother’s pouch.

L.P. (Lumbar Puncture)

Obtaining a sterile sample of spinal fluid using a needle.

Moro Reflex

When an infant is startled, the moro reflex makes them throw out the arms and arch their back.

Nasal Cannula

Small set of prongs that go in the nose of the baby to deliver oxygen.

NEC (Necrotizing Enterocolitis)

A disease of the intestine, more common in preemies.  Portions of the bowel are damaged or destroyed due to poor blood flow, inflammation or infection.


A pediatrician who has specialized training in newborn intensive care.

Nitric Oxide

A type of inhaled gas used to help preemies who are intubated.

NG  (Naso-gastric) tube

A flexible tube placed in the nose to feed a baby, or drain air or mucous from stomach.


Nothing by mouth --feedings or fluids.

OG  (Oro-gastric) tube

A flexible tube that goes down the baby’s mouth into the stomach. It will drain mucous, air, or may be used for feeding.

Oscillating Ventilator

Also known as a high-frequency ventilator. It works differently than a conventional ventilator. The oscillating vent keeps the baby’s lungs constantly inflated by giving lots of small quantities of air at very fast rates.

Parenteral Nutrition

Is a special I.V. fluid containing essential nutrients necessary for the baby’s growth.

PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus)

When the ductus artery in the heart fails to close after birth.

Periodic Breathing

A pattern of breathing that is irregular. Due to a preemie’s immature central nervous system, they tend to take some deep breaths, then pause for 5-10 seconds before they take another breath.

Peripheral IV

A type of IV that is placed in small veins near the skin’s surface. These IV’s are usually placed in the scalp or the hands and feet.

Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn

Occurs when the pressure of blood vessels in the lungs is high, causing the blood not to carry the oxygen through the infant's body.

PICC  (Percutaneous Intravenous Central Catheter)

Tiny catheter threaded into a vein to give fluids.

PIE  (Pulmonary Interstitial Edema)

This is a complication in which air is trapped between the tiny air sacs or small airways of the lung causing air to leak out of them.


Leaking of air from the lung into the chest cavity, causing the lung to collapse.


Too many red blood cells. In some babies it can cause breathing difficulties, low blood sugar and jaundice.

PVL (Periventricular Leukomalacia)

A softening of the brain near the ventricles. This softening occurs because brain tissue in this area is damaged.

Radiant Warmer

Open bed with an overhead warmer to keep the babies warm.


A chamber inserted under the scalp to collect spinal fluid, relieving pressure on the ventricles. When necessary a needle can be inserted to remove fluid.

RDS (Respiratory Distress Syndrome)

The most common disease of premature infants, is due to insufficient surfactant in the lungs. Surfactant is a material produced by the lungs to allow them to stay open.


Very common eye disease of premature babies. New, abnormal blood vessels grow near the retina and temporarily or permanently damage it.

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)

A common virus that gives most people a cold. In premature babies, it can cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis.


Sometimes necessary in babies with hydrocephalus; it is a small plastic tube inserted surgically and carries excess fluid from the ventricles in the brain to the inside of the abdomen, where it can be reabsorbed.

SGA (Small for Gestational Age)

A baby whose birth weight is below the tenth percentile on the standard growth chart.


A substance in the lungs that helps keep the air sacs expanded. Premature infants lack this substance. Replacement surfactant can be given to babies.

U.A.C. (Umbilical Arterial Catheter)

Small catheter inserted through the artery in the baby’s navel. It is used to draw blood samples, provide nutrition, infuse blood products and medications and monitor the blood presssure.

U.V.C. (Umbilical Venous Catheter)

Small catheter inserted through the vein in the baby’s navel in order to give fluids and provide nutrition.