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Demystifying the NICU Lingo: A Guide for Parents

Dec 14, 2023

Stepping into the NICU can feel like entering a new language zone. Between the whirring machines and unfamiliar terms, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However understanding the “NICU lingo” can empower you to be more involved in your baby’s care.

Remember, this journey is different for everyone, and being there for your little one in whatever way you can is most important.

So, let’s take a peek at some common terms, simplified for understanding, no matter your background.

Helping Your Baby Breathe

  • Apneas and Bradycardias (As and Bs): These terms describe pauses in breathing and slow heart rates, which are common in premature babies. Don’t worry. The NICU team monitors these closely to ensure your baby’s well-being.
  • Bagging: If your baby needs immediate breathing help, healthcare providers might use a special bag and mask to quickly deliver air until another oxygen source is available.
  • CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure): For babies who can breathe but need a little extra support, CPAP helps keep their airways open with a gentle, but pressurized, stream of oxygen.
  • Ventilator (Vent): When babies need more significant breathing help, a ventilator takes over for them, supplying oxygen until they’re strong enough to breathe on their own.
  • Intubate and Extubate: Putting a breathing tube through the mouth or nose (intubation) is sometimes needed, and when your baby is ready, it’s gently removed (extubation).

Keeping Tabs on Your Little One

  • Blood Gas: This test checks oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your baby’s blood, giving clues about how well their lungs are working.
  • Pulse Oximeter (Pulse Ox): This handy clip uses a light flashed on the skin to measure the level of oxygen in your baby’s blood. Whereas a blood gas requires a blood sample to more accurately measure the oxygen in their blood at that time point, a pulse ox allows for caregivers to keep an eye on things on a continuous basis.
  • Leads: These sticky patches with wires monitor your baby’s heart rate and rhythm, ensuring everything is beating as it should.
  • EKG (Electrocardiogram): This test shows your baby’s heart’s electrical activity, like a mini “heart movie” for doctors to check its health.
  • EEG (Electroencephalogram): This test measures brain activity, helping doctors understand and manage any neurological concerns.

Caring for Your Tiny Miracle

  • Bilirubin: This is a red-orange compound that is produced when our red blood cells break down, which is a normal process. However, when it accumulates in the blood in high amounts, it can cause newborn jaundice (yellowing of the skin). Checking bilirubin levels helps manage this common condition.
  • Central Line: This thin tube inserted into a large vein delivers medications, fluids, or nutrients directly into the bloodstream for extended periods.
  • Drip (IV Infusion): This delivers fluids, medications, or nutrients straight into a vein, helping your baby get what they need.
  • NG Tube (Nasogastric Tube): For babies needing feeding help, this flexible tube delivers milk or formula directly to their stomach through the nose.
  • Cranial Ultrasound: This imaging test uses sound waves to check your baby’s brain for any abnormalities or bleeding.

Remember, understanding these terms takes time. Don’t hesitate to ask questions! Your healthcare team is there to help you navigate the NICU journey and feel empowered in your baby’s care.

Sharing the Journey

Have you been on a NICU journey? What terms were confusing? Share your experiences and tips for understanding NICU lingo in the comments below! Your insights can help other parents starting their NICU adventure.

Together, let’s navigate this journey with knowledge, support, and the love that knows no bounds.


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