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Parents and families on the neonatal unit may hear some medical terminology they are not familiar with. Below is a guide to help you understand some common words and phrases.


Term Description
Anaemia Too few red blood cells.
Apnoea A pause in breathing which may require intervention.
Bagging A term used to describe the pumping of air and/or oxygen into a baby's lungs via a device called a neopuff. This is done when a baby's oxygen level is low and not recovering.
BIPAP/Biphasic These terms mean the same thing. It is another mode on the SIPAP machine. It is like CPAP in that it gives a baseline pressure to the lungs. However, in Biphasic mode, the neonatal team can set a breath rate (usually around 30 per minute) which will increase the pressure slightly with every set breath. Oxygenation will improve in babies that are struggling on CPAP.
Bilirubin (Bili) A product of the breakdown of red blood cells. An excess amount of Bilirubin causes a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
Blood Gas A blood test to determine how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in the blood, usually taken from the baby's foot. Other things can also be recorded from the test such as pH of the blood and blood sugar levels. An important test as the results determine the right amount of ventilatory support the baby receives.
Bradycardia (Brady) A slowing of the heart rate to lower than normal.
Cares A term used to describe nappy changing and cleaning of the mouth, eyes and ears. During this time the baby may be examined by a doctor to assess skin integrity and feed tolerance. Bedding is usually changed around cares time so baby feels comfortable.
Cannula A tube which is placed into the vein, usually in the hand or foot but can also be positioned on other parts of the body. This is used to deliver fluid and drugs to the baby.
Cooling The baby will be nursed naked on a cooling mattress for 72 hours. This is then followed by a period of slowly re-warming to normal body temperature. Cooling treatment is used to aid the healing process in the brain after a traumatic birth. Only NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Units) can offer this treatment. If the baby is born in a local neonatal unit and needs cooling the baby will have to be transferred to a hospital with a NICU.
CPAP Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It is delivered through nasal prongs or a nasal mask to provide a continuous pressure in the lungs to make breathing easier for the baby.
CRP C-Reactve Protein is a substance produced by the liver in response to inflammation. High levels in the blood can be a marker for inflammation which may indicate an infection.
Containment Holding Positive gentle touch. This is done by placing one hand behind the babies head and the other hand around their bottom and holding the position still (not stroking). While you are doing this talk to your baby or sing to them. This holding position can calm a stressed baby and provide reassurance. It is a good way for parents to bond if baby is unable to come out of the incubator or cot.
Desaturation (Desat) A drop of oxygen levels in the blood stream.
Developmental Care Developmental care is an approach to individualise care of infants to maximise neurological development and reduce long-term cognitive and behavioural problems.
EBM Expressed Breast Milk. This can be collected via hand expressing or by the use of a pump.
Endotracheal Tube (ET tube) A thin tube passed through the mouth into the windpipe. The ET tube is then attached to a ventilator.
Family Integrated Care (FiCare) A model of care which supports and educates parents to become part of their baby's care team. Parents are taught to be involved in many aspects of the baby's care such as taking temperatures, cares, feeding via an NG tube, administering medication and taking part in ward rounds.
FBC Stands for Full Blood Count. The amount of red and white blood cells along with platelets are counted. This is used to screen for things such as anaemia.
Fortifier A powdered supplement added to expressed breast milk. It provides the extra protein, vitamins and minerals that very premature babies are unable to absorb from breast milk alone.
Glucose Sugar.
HIE Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy. A type of brain damage that occurs when an infant’s brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen and blood, usually during or shortly after the birthing process. HIE can affect all of your baby's organs: the lungs, liver, heart, kidneys, and particularly the brain. The severity can be mild, moderate or severe.
High Frequency Oscillation (HF0) A special ventilator setting which is capable of breathing for a baby at much higher rates than a normal ventilator. The baby will "wobble" due to the high breath rate but this is absolutely normal.
Hot Cot / Inditherm/ Cosytherm Cot An extra electric mattress added to an open cot. The mattress is heated to help the baby maintain a normal body temperature.
Hydrops Fetalis Severe swelling of the baby which occurs before birth. Too much fluid leaves the bloodstream and goes into the tissues. The most common type is non-immune. It occurs when disease or complications interfere with the baby's ability to manage fluid.
Hypoglycaemia Blood sugar which is below normal values.
Incubator A heated enclosed environment which acts as a cot for a premature or sick baby. Humidity and oxygen can also be delivered through the incubator if necessary.
Infusion A continuous flow of fluid (drugs or TPN) via an IV cannula, UVC or long line.
Intra-ventricular haemorrhage (IVH) A bleed into the ventricles of the brain which is common in babies born prematurely. There are different grades of IVH. Some can be serious but in many cases it causes no long-term problems.
Intravenous Into the vein.
Jaundice A term to describe the appearance caused by a high bilirubin level, which makes the skin and whites of the eyes look yellow.
Kangaroo Care A method of skin-to-skin contact between baby and mum or dad. It has lots of benefits for the baby including stabilising body temperature and reducing the risk of infection. It is also a beautiful way for parents and babies to bond.
Long Line (Central Line) A thin tube inserted into the baby's veins. Unlike a cannula this type of line can be left in situ for a long time.
LNU Local Neonatal Unit, often referred to as a level 2 unit.
Lumbar Puncture (LP) A procedure which involves a needle being inserted into the lower spine to obtain spinal fluid for diagnostic testing.
Meconium The first poo a baby passes which is dark green in colour and sticky.
Meconium Aspiration or Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS) When a baby breathes meconium from the amniotic fluid into the lungs during delivery. The meconium then interrupts the normal flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs.
Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC) This occurs when part of the wall of the intestine is swollen or inflamed due to damage to the lining, and can become invaded by bacteria. The abdomen may swell up, and blood is passed through the bowels. NEC can be treated by stopping the baby's feeds to allow the bowel to rest and starting the baby on antibiotics. Sometimes, though rarely, a hole may form a perforation in the gut wall or part of the bowel may die which can result in baby requiring surgery.
NG Tube Nasogastric feeding tube. A thin tube passed through the nose and into the babies stomach. This is used to provide milk to the baby.
NICU Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, often referred to as a level 3 unit.
Nitric Oxide A gas normally produced in the body which relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow to all parts of the body. When the blood vessels to the lungs remain narrowed, nitric oxide is given via inhaled air and oxygen. This causes the blood vessels in the lungs to relax and therefore increases blood flow to the lungs.
Oedema Swelling caused by excess fluid in the tissues under the skin.
OG Tube Orogastric feeding tube. The tube is passed through the mouth and into the baby's stomach. This is used to provide milk to the baby.
Optiflow A machine which can deliver humidified air and/or oxygen to a baby at a high pressure in order to help the baby to breathe easier.
Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel which allows blood to bypass the lungs when the baby is in the womb. After delivery the baby no longer requires this and it will close. Sometimes this doesn't happen resulting in a PDA, which means oxygen is not delivered to the lungs effectively.
Phototherapy Special blue lights used to treat jaundice. The ultra violet light breaks down the excess bilirubin in the skin.
Pneumothorax A collapsed lung. It occurs when there is a collection of air in the space around the lungs. This build up of air puts pressure on the lung, meaning it cannot expand as much as it normally does when you take a breath.
Positive Touch Foundation of bonding between the baby and the family. It encompasses containment holding, kangaroo care and cuddles.
Quiet Time A period of the day set aside to aid baby's development. Noise levels and lighting are reduced, and only urgent procedures are undertaken. Skin-to-skin is encouraged during this time.
Reflux When the stomach contents come back up the oesophagus and into the mouth. Reflux is very common in newborn babies.
Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) Respiratory distress syndrome happens when a baby's lungs aren't fully developed and can't provide enough oxygen, causing breathing difficulties. Premature babies are more prone to this as their lungs do not have sufficient surfactant to help keep the lungs open and prevent collapse.
Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) Damage to the retina of the eye that is sensitive to light. It is usually linked to the amount of oxygen in the blood reaching the retina and is prevalent in extremely premature babies (less than 28 weeks). These babies are routinely checked for retinopathy of prematurity and laser eye treatment is given to those badly affected.
Rooming In When baby is close to being discharged, parents are invited to stay in the parents accommodation with their baby. The aim is for parents to be confident without the nursing staff and reduce parent anxiety around discharge.
Saturation Probe (Sats) A non invasive method of measuring the oxygen levels in the blood. The monitor is called a pulse oximeter and the light attached to the baby's hand or foot is the probe.
SBR Serum Bilirubin. This is taken from a blood sample and determines whether the baby has a jaundice level that requires treatment.
SCU Special Care Unit, often referred to as a Level 1 unit.
Sepsis An infection which can be present in the blood or other parts of the body.
Steroids Steroids are given antenatally to mothers where the birth seems likely to occur early. The drug crosses the placenta and causes the baby’s lungs to mature for breathing. After birth, babies with chronic lung disease may require low doses of steroids in order to aid weaning them off the ventilator.
Surfactant Surfactant is a mixture of chemicals that prevent the lungs from collapsing when the baby breathes out. Production of surfactant in the lungs starts at approximately 24 weeks gestation but is not well developed before 36 weeks gestation. This can be the cause of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Replacement surfactant is given as a liquid into the lungs of the premature baby.
Suction Removal of mucus from the ET tube, nose or throat by means of a tube.
Tachypnoea Breathing faster than normal observation limits.
Tachycardia Heart rate is higher than normal observation limits.
Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) A type of Intravenous fluid that provides total nutrition to someone who cannot take any nourishment via the gut. TPN contains sugars, electrolytes, vitamins, and proteins, and can supply all of the nutrients that the body needs.
Transfusion Transferring donated blood, blood products, or other fluid into the circulatory system of the baby. Blood transfusion is a common occurrence on the neonatal unit.
Umbilical Catheter (UVC and UAC) A small tube which is inserted into the artery or vein of the umbilical cord meaning fluid and drugs can be given.
Vapotherm A machine which can deliver humidified air and/or oxygen at a high pressure to support a baby to breathe independently.
Ventilator A machine which is used to deliver air and/or oxygen at a set breathing rate to support the baby with breathing.
Wean To take away gradually. Weaning is often used to describe the process of removing an infant from any respiratory support.