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NICU Terms & Meanings

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Understanding NICU Terminology

At The Beasley Firm, our Philadelphia birth injury attorneys are dedicated to protecting families undergoing medical difficulties. If your newborn or premature baby is admitted to the NICU, you may hear the nurses or doctors using certain words or medical terminology that you unfamiliar with. Learning what some of these mean can help ease the tension and give you a greater understanding of what is going on. Always ask a medical professional if you are confused or unsure with their treatment.

If you are in need of legal help due to a birth injury incurred at the hands of the hospital, physician or nurse, don’t hesitate to enlist our team of birth injury experts.

NICU Terminology

A’s and B’s

An abbreviation for apnea (stopped breathing) and bradycardia (low heart rate). Many NICU nurses will keep A and B flowsheets to see if your baby may be developing an infection or problems. Often, caffeine is ordered to control or diminish the amount of apnea or bradycardia episodes.


Anemia occurs when the blood has a low red blood cell count. Red blood cells help carry oxygen to the body. If severely anemic, your baby may be administered blood or packed red blood cells (PRBC’s) to help increase the amount of oxygen that reaches his or her brain or organs.


Apnea refers to a period of time where your baby stops breathing. Periods of apnea are common in premature infants or newborns and are often self-corrected. Prolonged or frequent periods of apnea should be addressed.


Asphyxia occurs due to inadequate oxygen to the brain or other organs.


Aspiration refers to anything entering the lungs other than air (such as, breast milk, formula, vomit or stomach fluids, or meconium).

Attending Physician

This is the doctor or neonatologist who is primarily responsible for the coordination and management of the medical care for your baby.


Bagging is the act of giving oxygen to your baby by squeezing a bag connected to a face mask or endotracheal tube.

Bililights (Phototherapy, wallaby)

These specialized lights are utilized to treat jaundice, a high bilirubin level or yellow skin in your newborn.


This causes the jaundice or yellow skin color in your baby. It is a product of red blood cell breakdown.

Blood Gases (ABG’s or venous gases)

This refers to the amount of carbon dioxide, oxygen, or pH levels of your baby’s blood.


This refers to a low heart rate or drop in your baby’s heart rate.

Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD)

This is a chronic lung condition seen in newborns on a ventilator or breathing machine or who were born prematurely.


This refers to a doctor specializing in the heart and circulatory system.

CBC (Complete Blood Count)

This is a measure of the different categories of blood cells in your baby’s blood: red blood cells (rbc’s) to carry oxygen, white blood cells (wbc’s), to fight off infections, and platelets for blood clotting and bleeding or hemorrhage prevention.

Central Catheter or Central Line

A catheter is a small, bendable tube that is positioned within your baby’s artery or vein to provide necessary fluids or medication. Central catheters, including umbilical venous (UV line) and umbilical artery (UA line) catheters, can be placed into the artery of the umbilical cord or a vein. Broviac catheters are located in the upper chest and PICC lines (percutaneously inserted central catheters) are located in the arm.


A bedside test where a drop of your baby’s blood is set on a strip of treated paper to monitor your baby’s blood sugar.

Chest Tube

To help re-inflate the lung, remove fluid, or remove air from the chest cavity, a tiny tube is placed in the area between the baby’s lung and chest wall.


This stands for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure” which is a form of ventilator assistance to help keep your baby’s lungs open or inflated.

CT Scan (of the head)

Computerized x-rays of your baby’s brain.


A lab test performed on your baby’s urine, spinal fluid, blood, or other samples to check for germs, infection or bacteria.


If your baby’s body doesn’t have enough oxygen, they may have a blue skin color. Circumoral cyanosis is a bluish discoloration around your baby’s lips or mouth.


This test looks at your baby’s heart using sound waves. Similar to an ultrasound, the test is not painful or harmful.


“Puffy” or swollen skin due to fluid buildup under the skin.

Endotracheal Tube (ET Tube or ETT)

This tube is inserted into the baby’s upper trachea after passing through the mouth or nose. It helps deliver oxygen to the lungs.

Exchange Transfusion

This treatment exchanges the baby’s blood with donor blood in small amounts. Exchange transfusion is often used to lessen bilirubin levels in a baby’s blood if the level is too high or if bili lights or phototherapy are not lowering the bilirubin level fast enough.


This is the removal of the endotracheal or breathing tube.

Fellow (in Neonatology)

This is a pediatrician who is additionally trained in the care of premature babies or sick newborns.

Gastroenterologist (GI)

A gastroenterologist refers to a doctor specializing in the digestive system.


In order to deliver formula or other forms of nutrition into the baby’s stomach, doctors create an opening in the abdominal wall.

Gavage Feedings

If a baby is premature or too weak to bottle feed or nurse, nutrition can be delivered through a plastic tube inserted into the stomach through the baby’s mouth or nose.

Heart Murmur

Is a different heart sound made when the blood pumping in the heart. Some heart murmurs are benign, while others require medical attention.

Heel Stick

This is similar to a finger prick, but taken from the baby’s heel, and used to obtain blood for tests.

Hematocrit (crit)

This blood test checks the quantity of red blood cells in your baby’s blood.


This refers to an irregular buildup of cerebrospinal fluid or CSF in the ventricles of the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid is the fluid that bathes the spinal cord and brain.


Similar to jaundice, hyperbilirubinemia indicates a high blood levels of bilirubin.


Low glucose or blood sugar

Intravenous (IV)

This is a small plastic tube inserted into one of your baby’s veins, through which IV fluids, sugar or dextrose water, medications, antibiotics or electrolytes are administered.

Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH)

This occurs when blood collects in and around the brain’s ventricles (hollow portions).


This refers to the insertion of an endotracheal or breathing tube into your baby’s trachea.


This condition refers to the large amounts of bilirubin in your baby’s blood that result in yellow coloring of the skin and eyes.

Lumbar Puncture (LP or spinal tap)

This is a diagnostic procedure to test for infections or meningitis where a small needle is inserted in between the vertebrae to gather spinal fluid.


This is the dark green or black, thick, sticky first bowel movements that your baby will have.

Meconium Aspiration

If your baby was in distress during labor and passed meconium before delivery, your baby could aspirate or breathe the meconium into his or her lungs. This condition can lead to breathing problems.


This is an infection of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain. A Group B strep (GBS) infection is a common cause of neonatal meningitis.

Nasal Cannula

This is a clear plastic tube with soft prongs that sit in your baby’s nostrils and provides oxygen.

Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)

When the wall of the intestines become infected, Necrotizing Entercolitis may be present. This can cause sepsis or even blood poisoning if the infection spreads. Surgery may be needed to remove parts of the damaged intestine. Babies born prematurely are especially vulnerable to this disease.


This is a medical doctor who specializes in newborn infant diseases or common premature baby diseases. Most are pediatricians who have received additional years of training.


This refers to a doctor specializing in problems with the kidneys or urinary tract.


This refers to a doctor specializing in problems with the brain or nerves.


This means your baby is not allowed to have anything by mouth.


This refers to a doctor specializing in problems with the eyes or eyesight.


A doctor specializing in nose, throat, and ear problems. They are sometimes also referred to as an ENT doctor.

Oxyhood (02 hood)

A clear plastic hood or tent is placed over your baby’s head to provide oxygen or humidified air.

Parental Nutrition, Total Parental Nutrition (TPN) or Hyperalimentation (Hyper-AI)

This refers to proteins, electrolytes, minerals and occasionally fats (lipids) that are given intravenously (IV) if your baby cannot accept full gavage or nipple feedings.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)

The ductus arteriosus (DA) is a blood vessel in the heart that connects the aorta (which provides blood to the rest of the body) to the pulmonary artery (which sends blood to the lung). It allows blood to circumvent the lungs while a baby is still in the womb or uterus. After delivery, this hole usually closes. If not, surgery or medication may be needed to close the ductus.

Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL)

This is a type of brain injury that involves the fluid-filled cavities, or ventricles, of your baby’s brain. This area of the brain is also called the white matter. If there is injury to the white matter of the brain, it can lead to developmental delays and cerebral palsy.


This treatment places your baby under bright lights or in a special light blanket to help break down bilirubin in your baby’s body.


Air leakage from your baby’s lung into the space surrounding the lung could cause a partial or complete collapse of the lung. If large enough, it may require a chest tube.

Positive End-Expiratory Pressure (PEEP)

This refers to the least amount of pressure delivered by the ventilator to your baby in between forced breaths.


This can refer to regurgitation, spit-up, projectile vomiting or a backward flow of feedings or stomach contents.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS)

Insufficient surfactant or normal lubricant in your baby’s lungs can cause the lungs to be stiff. This is a common problem for babies born prematurely.

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

This is an abnormal growth of the blood vessels in an infant’s eye, within the retina, that can lead to vision problems.


This infection can affect your baby’s entire body. It is also known as blood poisoning.

Septic Workup

If a baby is suspected to have an infection, a septic workup is performed. This includes a variety of tests such as x-rays, as well as blood, spinal fluid, and urine cultures. Once the cultures are performed, newborns are frequently placed on Ampicillin and Gentamycin until the culture reports come back.

Supra-Pubic Tap

This procedure obtains a sterile sample of your baby’s urine by inserting a sterile needle directly into the baby’s bladder after first cleaning off the lower abdomen.


Surfactant is secreted by special cells within the alveoli (air sacs) of your baby’s lungs to make the lungs more flexible and keep them from collapsing. Many premature babies are lacking this lubricant so it will be artificially instilled into the lungs to help make breathing and oxygen exchange easier.


This refers to a small surgical slit made in your baby’s trachea, below the voice box, to allow oxygen to reach the lungs.

Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn [RANSIENT TACHYPNEA OF THE NEWBORN (TTN)

This refers to rapid breathing, more than 60 breaths a minute, in a newborn. This can be normal up to 4 hours after birth. After 4 hours, the rapid breathing could be caused by pneumonia, aspiration, infection, sepsis or under developed lungs.

Ultrasound of the Head

This test uses soundwaves to show images of your baby’s brain. The test, similar to an ultrasound you may have had while you were pregnant, is neither painful nor harmful may be performed bedside.

Trust a Firm with Over $2 Billion in Verdicts & Settlements!

If you believe your baby sustained a birth injury due to the medical malpractice or negligence of the hospital, a doctor, or nurse, don’t hesitate to enlist the reputable legal services of The Beasley Firm. Our Philadelphia birth injury attorneys thrive in case preparation and will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of just compensation on your behalf. We have established a solid relationship with judges, experts, and even opposing counsel due to our reputation for hard work and expertise. Our birth injury team includes NICU nurses, labor and delivery nurses, and doctors who lend their professional insight to your case. Because of our success, our lawyers have been recognized in Super Lawyers® lists and by Best Law Firms®.

To learn more about our legal services, don’t hesitate to call The Beasley Firm at (215) 866-2424!

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