Below are some of the most commonly used terms related to care of an infant in a NICU. 

Antibiotics: Medications used to treat infection.

Apnea: A pause in breathing common in premature babies that is often due to an immature nervous system, but may occur for other reasons as well. A monitor will detect apnea and sound an alarm. 

Arteries: Blood vessels that carry oxygen to all parts of the body. 

Atrial septal defect (ASD): A hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of your heart (atria). The condition is present from birth. Small atrial septal defects may close on their own during infancy or early childhood.

Asphyxia: Lack of oxygen.

Aspiration: Breathing in of any foreign material, such as formula, meconium or stomach contents. The substance enters the windpipe or lungs, making it difficult to breathe. 

Bili Lights: Specialized florescent lights used to treat jaundice. 

BiliBlanket®: Specialized device with lights wrapped around the chest to treat jaundice. 

Bilirubin: A yellowish waste product formed when red blood cells break down causing jaundice. 

Blood Gas: Blood test done to determine how well your baby’s lungs are working to get oxygen to and remove carbon dioxide from the blood. Blood can be drawn from an artery (arterial blood gas or ABG), from a vein (VBG) or from capillaries (CBG).

Bradycardia (Brady): A heart rate that slows down below the normal range. This often happens with apnea, but may occur for other reasons as well. A monitor will detect bradycardia and sound an alarm. 

Cardiopulmonary monitor: Machine that tracks heart (cardio) and breathing (pulmonary) rates. 

Catheter: A small, thin plastic tube through which fluids are given or taken from the body. 

Complete blood count (CBC): A blood test used to evaluate your overall health and detect a wide range of disorders, including anemia, infection and leukemia. A complete blood count test measures several components and features of your blood, including red blood cells, which carry oxygen.

Central line: A small plastic tube that is placed in a large blood vessel to deliver intravenous feedings and medications. A central line can avoid many needle sticks for your baby when long-term care is needed.

Computer tomography (CT or CAT scan): An X-ray imaging technique that produces precise pictures of tissue using a narrow beam of radiation and computers.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): Air is delivered to a baby’s lungs through either small tubes in the baby’s nose or through a tube that has been inserted into his/her trachea (windpipe.) The tubes are attached to a mechanical ventilator, which helps the baby breathe, but does not breathe for him/her. 

Cerebral palsy: A disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that can be caused by infection, inadequate blood flow or injury to a baby’s developing brain either during pregnancy or while the baby is still young and immature.

Desaturation (Desat): A temporary drop in oxygen saturation below a preset limit.

Down syndrome: A genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in extra genetic material from chromosome 21. This genetic disorder, which varies in severity, causes lifelong intellectual disability and developmental delays, and in some people it causes health problems.

Echocardiogram (Echo): This test is an ultrasound of the heart to study your baby’s heart function.

Endotracheal tube: A small plastic tube that is inserted through a baby’s nose or mouth down into the trachea (windpipe). It is usually connected to a mechanical ventilator. 

Gastroschisis: A birth defect involving an opening in the abdominal wall through which the abdominal organs bulge out. 

Gastrostomy (G-tube): A tube, placed surgically in the stomach, through which a baby can be fed.

Gavage feeding: Feeding through a flexible tube placed through the nose or mouth into the stomach or intestines.

Gestational age: The common term used to describe the age of a pregnancy. A typical pregnancy can range from 38 to 42 weeks. Infants born before 37 weeks are considered premature. 

Hydrocephalus: Fluid accumulation in the brain.

High-frequency ventilation: A special form of mechanical ventilation designed to help reduce complications to delicate lungs. 

Hyperglycemia: A condition that occurs when there is too much sugar in the baby’s blood. 

Hypoglycemia: A condition that occurs when there is not enough sugar in the baby’s blood. 

Hypotension: Low blood pressure.

Hypoxia: A condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. Hypoxia may be classified as either generalized, affecting the whole body, or local, affecting a region of the body.

Incubator: A clear chamber where babies are kept warm and protected from germs and noise. 

Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR): A term for babies who are smaller than they should be at their gestational age.

Intravenous: Taking place within, or administered into, a vein or veins.

Jaundice: Yellowing of the skin due to increased amounts of bilirubin in the blood. It is often treated with phototherapy lights, or BiliBlankets or, occasionally with exchange transfusion, which helps break down the bilirubin so it can be passed out of the body in the urine or stool. 

Kangaroo care: Holding a baby with skin-to-skin contact. 

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Imaging technique that uses powerful magnets and computers to produce a detailed, three-dimensional picture of organs or tissues.

Meconium: Thick, dark green stool that babies pass for the first few days of life. 

Nasal Cannula: Soft plastic tubing that goes around a baby’s head and under their nose with opening (prongs) to deliver oxygen. 

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU): An intensive care unit designed for premature and ill newborn babies. There are four types of NICUs: level 1—well newborn nursery, level 2—special care nursery, level 3—neonatal intensive-care unit, level 4—regional neonatal intensive-care unit (Regional NICU.)

Necrotizing entercolitis (NEC): A condition that can affect premature and sick babies whereby the intestinal lining is infected and swollen. In the most severe cases, a hole (perforation) may develop in the intestines. Babies with NEC receive nutrients, antibiotics and medication through an IV so their intestines can rest. Some babies with NEC may require surgery. 

Oxygen Saturation: The percent of oxygen in the blood. 

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA): A temporary heart problem resulting from failure of a blood vessel to close after birth. It is treated with medication or occasionally by surgery. 

Physical therapy (PT): A branch of rehabilitative health that uses specially designed exercises and equipment to help patients regain or improve their physical abilities.

Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU): An area within a hospital specializing in the care of critically ill infants, children, and teenagers.

Pulse oximeter: A small device that uses a light sensor to help determine blood oxygen levels. 

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): Difficulty breathing due to immature lung development. Babies with RDS may need oxygen, ventilator support or surfactant replacement, which helps to keep the lungs open but is deficient in premature babies. 

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP): A disease of the eyes in premature infants that can lead to impaired vision. 

Room Air: The normal air we breathe, which has an oxygen concentration of approximately 21 percent. 

Sepsis: An infection of the blood or other tissues. It is treated with antibiotics. 

Tachycardia: Rapid heart rate.

Ultrasound: Imaging technique that uses sound waves to make a picture of tissue. Ultrasound scans may be done to check the brain for bleeding or fluid buildup or to examine the abdominal organs for problems in the gastrointestinal tract, liver or kidneys.

Vein: A blood vessel that brings blood back toward the heart. 

Vital signs: Measurements of the baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. 

Ventricular septal defect (VSD): A defect in the ventricular septum, the wall dividing the left and right ventricles of the heart.