NICU Jargon Buster

We’ve compiled a handy NICU jargon buster for our parents to refer to when they’re feeling overwhelmed, or just want to check something out.


Apnoea – Short bursts of time where baby forgets to breathe. This may be easily resolved by some gentle stimulation / rubs to help them to remember to breathe.

Arterial Line – A cannula placed in to a main artery to deliver medicines, fluids and monitor blood pressure (BP). Blood gasses may also be taken straight from the arterial line. It is often inserted through the umbilical cord once baby is born.

Aspiration – When your nurse is testing the stomach contents of your baby, she will aspirate it via a syringe and test it against a PH stick. This is also a great way to see if baby is tolerating their feeds or not.

Bagging – Occasionally if baby becomes incredibly poorly very quickly, and their breathing becomes obstructed, their doctor or nurse may need to manually ventilate them. This is done by placing a mask over their face and pumping a bag attached to oxygen.

Blood gas – Blood gasses are taken via a heel prick and capillary tube. The blood which fills the tube will be taken to a blood gas machine, this can let the care team know a lot of key information about your baby. It can tell the nurses and doctors things like; how much carbon dioxide is in the blood stream and how much potassium is present.

Blood Transfusion – Often, babies on neonatal units will need to have blood transfusions. It can be for many various reasons, including needing to be given after surgery or infection. Preterm babies cannot replenish their red blood cells. Did you know, one blood donation bag, can be split and help up to six premature babies?

Bolus – A bolus is an extra dose of medicine or fluid given in one go rather than over a set time. It can also be feeds too.

Bradycardia – Sometimes, a baby’s heartrate can drop slowly or dramatically, this is known as a ‘Brady’. Occasionally, this is accompanied by a desaturation (where baby’s oxygen levels dip) and is called a ‘Brady desat’

Bilirubin – Sometimes babies on the neonatal unit can get jaundice this is because the yellow pigment in baby’s blood (bilirubin) can turn the skin slightly yellow. This can be easily resolved by placing baby under some phototherapy lights.

Brain scan – It is routine on neonatal units to do brain scans on babies, often in the first week of life. These are done to check for any cysts, intraventricular haemorrhages, or abnormalities.  Your consultant or nurse will go through this with you before the procedure happens.

Caffeine – It’s very common for baby’s to be given caffeine on the neonatal unit (we like to call it their morning cup of coffee!). It has some brilliant benefits and is used to help stimulate baby and help reduce any bradycardia or apnoea.

Cannula – You may find your baby or babies needs to have a cannula. This is where a needle is inserted in to their skin to place a little plastic tube in a blood vessel (usually their hands or feet) and is used to give baby medication that they need. It will often be hooked up to a machine which will give your baby the correct amount of medicine over the correct amount of time.

Central Line – This is an IV (intravenous) line which goes in to a vein which is close to baby’s heart. It’s also known as a long line.

Chest Drain – Some babies can get air which leaks from the lungs. Chest drains, which are little tubes, are placed in to the chest cavity, and allow the excess air to drain off.

Chronic Lung Disease – Chronic Lung Disease is very common in babies born premature who have needed ventilation. It means that baby will most likely need oxygen support once they’re home.

Colostrum – Colostrum is the first milk a mum will produce. It has many benefits including, helping boost baby’s immune system, helping them have their first poo, it’s high in protein and carbohydrates too. It even protects the gastric tract and intestines.

Cooling blanket – A treatment which is given to some babies following hypoxia brain injuries. The blanket cools the body down and protects the brain and vital organs.

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) – CPAP is a form of breathing support given to some babies when on the neonatal unit. CPAP provides oxygen and pressure to help the lungs from collapsing. Your baby will wear a special mask and hat when needing this support.

CPR – CPR can be needed on the neonatal unit if baby needs to be resuscitated to get their heart and lungs working again.

Drip – A drip can deliver fluids or medication to your baby through a cannula.

EBM – Expressed breast milk

Echo (Cardiac Echo) – It is not uncommon for babies on neonatal units to need heart scans. These can be to check for any heart defects. Your nurse and consultant will go through all of it with you before the scan happens.

Endotracheal Tube (ET Tube) – This is the tube which is placed in baby’s windpipe and connected to a ventilator to help them breathe.

Express – A term given to mums who need to pump their breast milk in to syringes or bottles for their baby or babies. Mums can express using their hand, or with a manual or electric breast pump.

Extubate – This is where doctors (and sometimes, naughty babies!) remove the breathing tube, to either swap to a different form of breathing support such as CPAP, High Flow or Low Flow.

Family Integrated Care – A model of care which integrates the family into the neonatal team caring for baby.

Guthrie Test – All babies on the neonatal unit will have the Guthrie Test. It screens for Phenylketonuria (PKU) & congenital hypothyroidism.

High Flow / Opti Flow – High flow is another form of breathing support given to babies when on the neonatal unit. It’s given to baby through nasal prongs and gives warm, humidified pressurised oxygen to them.

Hot Cot – When baby needs a hand keeping warm, heated mattresses are placed in the cot to keep them toasty.

Hydrocephalus – Sometimes babies will get extra fluid on their brain, you can tell if this happens by an increase in head size. Baby may need surgery to put a shunt in place to drain the fluid off the brain.

Hypoglycaemia – Hypoglycaemia is where there is a very low blood glucose level. Glucose levels can be tested regularly on neonatal units.

Hypoxia – Hypoxia is a condition where the brain has been starved of oxygen and there is little oxygen in the blood tissues.

Incubator – This is where your baby may live if they are needing extra support. Incubators are a great way to keep baby warm, as they’re temperature controlled, and it can stop some infections. You will be able to touch and help care for your baby through the portholes on either side.

Intravenous drip – An IV drip gives your baby medicine directly in to their veins.

Intubate – This is where doctors will place a tube down baby’s windpipe and connect it to a ventilator to give them breathing support.

NG tube – A nasal gastric tube is a thin tube placed in to your baby’s mouth, down their throat and in to their tummy. This tube is used to give medicines and / or for feeding.

O2 – Oxygen

Oedema – Fluid in the tissue, can happen to babies who spent a lot of time in the incubator. You can help your baby by massaging the oedema to get it moving.

OG tube – An oral gastric tube is a thin tube placed in to your baby’s mouth, down their throat and in to their tummy. This tube is used to give medicines and / or for feeding.

PDA ( Patent Ductus Arteriosus) – PDA’s a very common for babies born prematurely. A valve in the heart, which normally shuts when babies are delivered at term, stays open. Often it will close by itself, however in some occasions it doesn’t. If this happens your baby may need a course of ibuprofen to help close the valve, or surgery. Your consultant will discuss all of this with you if your baby has a PDA which needs treatment.

Phototherapy – Phototherapy is given to babies who have jaundice and need support to correct their bilirubin levels.

Physiotherapy – Neonatal Units often bring in physiotherapists to do targeted exercises to help with positioning and development.

Plasma – Plasma carries blood cells around your baby’s body and contain much needed protein and minerals.

Platelets – Platelets will help your baby’s blood clot. Sometimes, babies may need a platelet transfusion if they’re unable to clot very well.

Pneumonia – Pneumonia is a serious lung infection.

Pneumothorax – A pneumothorax occurs when there is air between the chest wall and the lungs if a lung has leaked some air. A pneumothorax can be resolved and managed with a chest drain, or high frequency oscillation. Sadly, in some cases, the air can cause irreplaceable and unfixable damage to baby’s lung or lungs.

Respiratory distress – Respiratory distress happens when not enough oxygen can get to baby’s lungs to help them breathe.

ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity) – ROP can occur when babies are subjected to oxygen for long periods. The damage is caused to the retina area of the eye. Babies are routinely checked by ophthalmologists when on neonatal units and there are three stages of ROP. If your baby requires laser eye surgery it is because they have reached a developing stage two, or a stage three.

Sepsis – Sepsis is where infection goes in to the blood stream. Sepsis, if caught early can be managed, however sometimes, Sepsis can be fatal if the infection isn’t managed properly.

Surfactant – Surfactant is given to help loosen up baby’s lungs, making it easier for them to breathe out and stops the lungs collapsing.

TPN (Total Parent Nutrition) – TPN is often given to very preterm babies until they’re able to have breast milk or formula milk. TPN includes minerals, glucose, salts, amino acids and lipids.

Tachycardia – Sometimes, a baby’s heartrate can become increasingly fast. It can be caused by infection, baby being too hot, or unhappy.

UAC – A UAC line is an umbilical artery catheter. This line can be used to give medicine, take blood samples or used for a blood transfusion, or to check blood pressure.

Ultrasound – Often on the neonatal unit, the consultant may need to perform ultrasounds on your baby or babies, this can be a head scan, a tummy scan or a heart scan. All are harmless to baby, but will help give doctors a better idea of how to help your baby.

Ventilator – A Ventilator provides intensive breathing support for baby. It helps take over the function of the lungs and breathes for baby while they rest or learn to take their own breaths.





Facts & Figures

79% of parents said a neonatal stay affected their mental health

Leo’s saw a 337% increase in need due to COVID-19

Did you know, reading to your baby in the NICU helps their development?

Leo's Neonatal

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