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NICU and Special Care Nursery

The doctors and nurses in the NICU or SCN explain and discuss each newborn's condition and treatment with families; however, many parents find it helpful to have a glossary they can reference at any time.

For information on common diagnoses, visit KidsHealth.

Following is a list of commonly used terms:

  • Anemia: Low level of red blood cells.
  • Apnea: A prolonged pause in breathing. This is a common problem in premature infants and may require monitoring or medication.
  • Aspiration: Inhaling a foreign substance into the lungs, such as formula or amniotic fluid.
  • Bagging: Pumping air into the baby's lungs using a rubber bag. This is a temporary measure that helps a baby breathe.
  • Bilirubin: A yellow-pigmented waste product that forms when the body naturally eliminates old red blood cells. It may make the skin and eyes look yellow.
  • Blood gas: Blood test used to monitor the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Blood transfusion: Procedure in which a small amount of blood is given slowly through a vein.
  • Bradycardia (Brady): A slowing of the baby's heart rate.
  • Care center/radiant warmer: An open bed with an overhead warmer used to maintain baby's body temperature.
  • CAT scan: Special x-ray examination.
  • Chronic lung disease (CLD): Previously known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), this is a condition in which there are chronic changes in the baby's lungs.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): Maintaining low pressure in the airways to keep the lungs expanded.
  • Cyanosis: Blueness of the skin as a result of decreased oxygen levels.
  • Echocardiogram: Special ultrasound that enables the cardiologist to get a picture of the heart.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): A test to record the electrical activity of the brain.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG): A test to record the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Endotracheal tube (ET tube): A tube that passes through the baby's mouth or nose into the windpipe (trachea) to allow oxygen into the lungs.
  • Fontanel: Soft spots in the baby's head where the skull bones have not yet joined.
  • Gavage feedings (tube feedings): Providing nutrition through a plastic tube passed through the baby's mouth or nose and into the stomach.
  • Gram: A unit of weight (i.e. 28 grams = one ounce; 454 grams = one pound).
  • Group B Streptococcus (also called GBS): A normally occurring bacterium found in a women’s vagina that can increase the risk of preterm delivery, infection of the amniotic fluid, and infection of the uterus after delivery.
  • Hearing screening: Method to screen for hearing or hearing loss.
  • Heel stick: A blood sample obtained by pricking the baby's heel.
  • Hypoxia: A low level of oxygen in the baby's blood.
  • Intravenous (IV) therapy: Nutrition or medication given through a vein.
  • Isolette: A type of enclosed bed for an infant who is not mature or well enough to maintain her body temperature in an open crib.
  • Jaundice: A yellow skin color that develops in most premature babies and in some full-term babies.
  • Kangaroo care: Skin-to-skin care where the baby is placed on the bare chest of a parent.
  • Meconium: Dark-green material found in the baby's intestines. It's the first bowel movement after birth; it can be passed while the baby is still inside the mother.
  • Murmur: An extra sound heard in the chest that results from abnormal blood flow patterns. It may be due to structural heart abnormalities, though most have no significance.
  • Nasal cannula: Small prongs placed in the baby's nose that deliver oxygen.
  • NPO: Latin abbreviation for "nothing by mouth." If the baby is kept NPO, all feedings will be given intravenously.
  • Oxygen: Part of the air we breathe. Ordinary room air contains about 21 percent oxygen. Sick or premature infants often need extra oxygen, sometimes even 100 percent pure oxygen.
  • Oxyhood: A clear plastic box that's placed over the baby's head to provide additional oxygen and moisture.
  • Peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC line): Special intravenous (IV) catheter used when IV therapy or antibiotics are administered for a long period of time.
  • Phototherapy: Treatment of jaundice using ultraviolet lights. The baby's eyes must remain covered for protection.
  • Pneumonia: An inflammation of the lungs. In newborns, this is most commonly due to infection or aspiration.
  • Pulse oximeter (pulse ox): A machine that measures how well the blood is being oxygenated.
  • Reflux: A backward flow of stomach contents, generally referring to a type of vomiting, spitting up or regurgitation common in premature infants.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): Lung disease caused by lack of surfactant (lubricant in the lungs); a common cause of breathing difficulty in premature babies.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP): A condition that develops in the eyes of some premature babies where the retina buckles and pulls away from the eyeball.
  • Seizure: A brief period of increased electrical activity in the brain. The baby's body may tense up and she may lose consciousness for a few moments.
  • Sepsis: A severe infection in the blood or tissues.
  • Small for gestational age (SGA): A baby who is small at birth because of poor growth in the womb.
  • Spinal tap/lumbar puncture: A procedure in which a needle is inserted into the lower spine to obtain spinal fluid.
  • Suctioning: The process of removing secretions from the baby's nose, mouth or lungs by using either a bulb syringe or suction catheter.
  • Surfactant: A lubricant that lines the small air-filled sacs in the lungs and keeps the lungs from sticking together.
  • Tachycardia: A fast heart rate.
  • Tachypnea: A fast breathing rate.
  • Tremors: Shaking or trembling of the face or limbs.
  • Ultrasound: A diagnostic test that uses sound waves to look at the structure of internal organs.
  • Umbilical catheter: Catheter inserted into the baby's umbilical cord that is used to draw blood or give IV fluids.
  • Ventilator: A machine that helps an infant breathe by pumping oxygen into a tube that goes into the lungs.
  • Wean: To take away gradually. In the NICU or SCN, it is often used to describe the process of removing an infant from a ventilator or isolette.

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