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NICU Glossary

The NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) Staff

Neonatologist: A pediatrician with advanced training in the area of newborn intensive care medicine. The neonatologist in charge may change each month because they often work on a rotating basis. There may be a different neonatologist covering patients at night.

Fellow: A fully trained and experienced pediatric doctor who is training to become a neonatologist.

Resident: A medical doctor who is specializing in pediatrics. Residents are actively involved in your baby’s care and are a good resource for information.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP): A nurse who has completed an advanced educational program and training in neonatology and works under the direction of the neonatologist. The NNPs are actively involved with care and may answer questions and give information.

Registered Nurse (RN): Your baby will have a nurse assigned to care for him/her each shift. Shifts vary between four and twelve hours. The nurse is responsible for all care of the infant and you can have daily contact with the RN assigned to your baby.

Primary Nurse: While in the NICU you may be able to request that a particular nurse caring for your baby become your baby’s primary nurse. This means that whenever that particular nurse is on duty they will be given charge of your infant. There are many nurses that may rotate through caring for your infant and having a primary nurse gives you and your baby some consistency and gives you an opportunity to create a relationship of trust with your baby’s caregiver. I highly recommend that soon after you arrive in the NICU, when your baby has an assigned nurse that you get along well with and whom shares the same ideas you do about the care of your baby, that you request for them to be your baby’s primary nurse. The care and attitude of nurses make a huge difference in your NICU experience.

Charge Nurse: The nurse assigned to manage the operations of the patient care area for the shift. Responsibilities may include staffing, admissions and discharge, and coordination of activities in the patient care area.

Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. Copyright 2009, Elsevier.

Respiratory Therapists (RT): In the NICU RTs are specially trained to care for babies with breathing difficulties. They also are experts on the medical equipment used to treat these types of problems. There are RTs in the NICU 24 hours a day.

Occupational Therapists (OT): In the NICU, OTs are specially trained to care for the developmental needs of the infants. They are the experts on breastfeeding, lactation, infant cues, positioning, and interventions for optimal development. They are a great resource especially if you plan to breastfeed. The OTs were one of my greatest resources in the NICU, and I turned to them almost daily for breastfeeding help. 

Social Workers: Social workers can be a great support for your family. They can help arrange for housing, transportation, and meals; they can clarify hospital policies and procedures, alert the medical team to your concerns, identify resources and assist with financial concerns.

Case Managers: The case manager is an RN who has experience taking care of high risk infants. They work with your insurance company to make sure they have clinical information about your baby so they will pay the bill! They also may help with financial concerns (SSI, Medicaid, etc.). A Discharge Coordinator may work with the Case manager to arrange for any home health or medical equipment your baby might need at discharge.

Pharmacist: A pharmacist is specially trained in the area of pharmaceutical treatment. He/She is knowledgeable in medication administration and the effects it will have on the patient. They can answer questions about the medications your baby is receiving.

Audiologist: An audiologist is specially trained to assess functions of hearing. Each infant will receive a test performed by the audiologist prior to being discharged to check for proper hearing.

Health Care Assistant (HCA): An HCA may help nurses with bedside care, are trained to feed the infants, help clean and organize equipment, assist the charge nurse with unit needs, and assist parental needs like CPR training, discharge, etc.

(A large part of these definitions come from a Parent Manual provided to parents by the University of Utah Medical Center NICU.)

Newborn Intensive Care Unit – Equipment

Learning about all of the equipment in the NICU, particularly the equipment your baby is using, will help you to be more comfortable while visiting the NICU, more comfortable being with and taking care of your baby, and will give you confidence when you take your baby home and you become his or her sole caregiver.

Cardio-Respiratory Monitor:  Sometimes referred to as a heart monitor, this machine has three patches that are usually connected to the baby’s chest. It is able to read the baby’s heart rate, rhythm, and respiratory rate. It can also display blood pressure readings if necessary.

Pulse Oximeter:  This monitors the baby’s blood oxygen level. A tiny infrared light is attached to the baby’s foot, or hand that is able to detect the amount of oxygen traveling in the blood. Normal values for a term baby are from 92% to 100%; however, acceptable levels for preterm babies and micropreemies may be lower. Talk to your medical team about the expectations for your baby.

Temperature Probe:  This is a simple wire that is attached to the babies stomach with tape and measures the baby’s skin temperature. This helps regulate the amount of heat put out from the overhead warmer or the isolette.

Umbilical Artery Catheter or Umbilical Venous Catheter (UAC/UVC):  This is a small piece of tubing that is threaded through the baby’s umbilical cord (belly button) and then into the baby’s artery or vein. It is a way to deliver fluids, medication and nutrients to the baby painlessly. Blood can also be taken out for laboratory tests so the infant doesn’t get poked in the heel.

Intravenous Infusion (IV):  This is a small tube that is placed (using a needle) into a vein and is used to deliver fluids, medications, blood, and nutrients. Common sites for an IV are: hands, feet, arms, legs, and the scalp of the infant. A mechanical pump pushes the fluids in at a planned speed and hangs by the bedside.

Alarms:  There are many different alarms in the unit that you will hear often. The nurse is trained to answer the alarms properly and to make adjustments accordingly. Please do not take it upon yourself to silence alarms. Also please respect that the nurses know the different sounds of the alarms well and if busy may not answer an alarm right away.

Endotracheal Tube (ETT Tube):  This is a tube that goes from the baby’s mouth into the baby’s windpipe (trachea). It is secured with tape and attaches by tubing to a breathing machine (ventilator).

Ventilator (Vent):  A breathing machine that directly delivers oxygen into the lungs and breathes for the baby if necessary. Sometimes called a respirator.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP):  Oxygen is delivered through a small mask with tubes that fit into the nostrils or the nose. The oxygen can be delivered with pressure, which helps to keep the air sacs of the lung open and ready to exchange air. 

Oxygen Hood (Head Box):  Oxygen is fed into a clear, plastic hood through tubing and is placed over the head of the baby. The baby breathes on their own and receives extra oxygen and humidity from the air in the hood. 

Nasal Cannula:  This is small tubing that fits around the head and lays in front of the nose. It is held in place with tape and oxygen flows through it and can be breathed in by the baby.

Radiant (Overhead) Warmer:  This is a bed that helps keep your baby at the right temperature. A thermometer is taped to your baby and attached to a heater. When your baby gets too cool, the heater turns up. When your baby gets warm the heater turns down.

Incubator (Isolette):  Also a bed that works much the same way as the radiant warmer to keep your baby warm. It has a see-through exterior that heats up and the air inside stays warm to heat the baby.

Phototherapy Lights (Bili Lights):  Special lights called bili-lights help your baby to get over being jaundice. These fluorescent lights are placed over the baby’s bed and are on most of the time. A mask will be placed on the baby to protect their eyes from the light. The baby will be undressed so the skin can get the most exposure from the lights. The lights will be removed once the jaundice is resolved. 

These definitions come from a Parent Manual provided to parents by the University of Utah Medical Center NICU.