Pediatric NICU Terms to Know

Pediatric NICU Terms to Know


Print friendly version: English | Spanish

Glossary of NICU Terms

During your baby’s stay in the NICU, you may hear many new terms that are unfamiliar to you. Here are some of the common ones used in our NICU and their meanings.


Alveoli: small sacs in the lungs where oxygen and other gases are exchanged in the blood stream.

Anemia: a low number of red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen to the tissues. Anemia is common for premature babies, and, in some cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary to correct it.

Antibiotics: medications that prevent or treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibodies: produced by the body to fight bacteria or viruses in the blood.

Aorta: a large artery leaving the heart that carries blood with oxygen.

Apnea: a temporary stoppage of breathing.


Bacteria: organisms that cause disease and infection.

Bili lights: special lights used to aid in the removal of bilirubin from the infant’s blood.

Bilirubin: a yellow-orange pigment to the infant’s skin due the presence of excessive amounts of bilirubin. This byproduct of cell breakdown causes jaundice.

Blood gas: a test that monitors the oxygen and other components of the infant’s blood. Blood pressure: a measure of the amount of pressure on the walls of the blood vessels.

Blood transfusion: [with parental consent] blood from a donor is given to the baby through an intravenous line after careful matching of compatibility.

Bonding: the connection between parents and infant.

Bradycardia: a slower heartbeat than normal. This is usually accompanied by apnea.


Catheter: a thin tube used to give fluids and blood into or out of the body.

Central line: an intravenous line used for long-term treatment that enters the skin and rests just before the heart.

Central nervous system: brain and spinal cord.

CLD - Chronic Lung Disease: This is described as the need for oxygen by a premature baby for an extended period of time.

Colostrum: breast milk produced in the first days after delivery. This milk carries many antibodies and nutrients vital for your baby.

CPAP - Continuous Positive Airway Pressure: Pressurized air is delivered to the baby via small plastic prongs to aid in the expansion of the lungs. 


Endotracheal tube: thin plastic tube inserted into the baby’s trachea to deliver air, oxygen and breaths to the infant.


Full-term baby: between 37 and 42 weeks gestation.


Gavage feeding: feeding through a tube that enters the nose and ends in the stomach.

Glucose: type of sugar that stays in the baby’s blood and provides energy.


Halo: a plastic dome placed over the baby’s face to concentrate oxygen available for the infant.

Hyperglycemia: excessively high amounts of sugar in the blood.

Hypoglycemia: abnormally low amounts of sugar in the blood.


Infusion pump: a pump used to deliver IV fluids to the baby for nutrition when feeding is not possible.

IVH - Intraventricular Hemorrhage: This describes bleeding in the infant’s brain. The condition can be mild or severe and should be discussed with your baby’s doctor.

Intubation: placement of an endotracheal tube into the trachea (windpipe) to ensure air and oxygen passage to the lungs.


Jaundice: yellowing of the skin associated with excessive amounts of bilirubin in the blood.


Low Birth Weight: birth weight less than 2500 grams (about 5.5 pounds).


Monitor: the machine recording and alerting the nurse of the status of your baby’s heartbeat and respiratory rate.


NEC- Necrotizing Enterocolitis: This is a condition where the intestines are compromised and require a temporary break from food and the need for antibiotics to treat an associated infection.

Neonatology: a special field in pediatric medicine and nursing that is devoted to the care of the premature or sick newborn.

NICU: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit


PDA - Patent Ductus Arteriosus: This is a condition in the infant’s heart where it has not transitioned to the extra-uterine environment. It can be treated by medication or may require surgery.

Pneumonia: an infection in the lungs that causes fluid accumulation and requires antibiotics to treat.


RDS - Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Due to poor lung development and prematurity, newborns have trouble breathing.

Red Blood Cells: cells that carry oxygen to the tissues.

ROP - Retinopathy: eye problem in premature infants with prolonged exposure to oxygen. It ranges in severity, and treatment depends on the severity.

Rooting: coordinated movements of the head and mouth as an infant is looking for a nipple to suck on.


Sepsis: an infection if the blood stream that is treated by antibiotics. 

Surfactant: substance formed in the lungs that helps the alveoli with air exchange. Many premature infants are given surfactant at birth to aid their breathing.


Tachycardia: an unusually fast heart rate.

Trachea: the windpipe from the back of the throat to the lungs.


Umbilical Artery Catheter: a small plastic tube placed most often in the baby’s umbilical artery to serve as an IV for the administration of nutrients, medications or blood products.


Vein: a blood vessel that carries blood back to the heart.

Vital Signs: measurements of heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and temperature.