You may frequently hear words or phrases used by the staff on neonatal units; where possible they do try to explain these terms for you, however please do not hesitate to ask if you do not understand any words that are being used.
Below are some terms/words you may hear with a brief explanation, which may be of use to you:

Jargon Buster

Apnoea a short period of time when a baby stops breathing and may require gentle stimulation

Blood Gas blood is taken from your baby either from a heel prick or a tube inserted into your baby’s umbilicus to check oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. The purpose is to check how well the lungs and circulation are functioning

Blood Glucose blood is taken usually from a heel prick to measure the level of glucose  (sugar) in the baby’s blood

Bilirubin a yellow pigment in the blood which gives the skin a yellow colouring which is associated with jaundice.

Bradycardia when a baby’s heart rate slows to less than 100 beats per minute

Cares nappy changing and cleaning your baby. The nurse will explain what to do so you can do this for your baby

Containment Hold helps your baby settle, placing your hand gently on the baby’s head and cupping their bottom, ask the nurse to show you how to do this

Developmental Care babies are nursed in an environment that supports their development, lighting is reduced, noise levels are monitored, covers are placed over incubators, positioning the baby using nests and bumpers helps them maintain a proper position to support their limbs and enables them to get their hands to their mouth

Grunting a noise the baby makes when they are having difficulty breathing

Intra-venous into the vein

Jaundice yellowness colouring of the skin/whites of the eyes caused by too much bilirubin in the blood

Kangaroo Care something both you and the baby’s dad can do, the baby is undressed (wearing a nappy) against your chest. You need to make sure you have loose fitting clothes. Ask your nurse to help you

A Local neonatal unit (LNU) also referred to as a level 2 neonatal unit:  provides expert levels of care nearer to many family’s homes.

Meconium a dark greenish substance which is produced in the baby’s digestive system before birth and usually starts being passed as bowel movements in the first 24 hours after birth

A Neonatal intensive Care Unit (NICU) also referred to as level 3 neonatal unit:  has the staff and equipment to offer care to the smallest and most vulnerable babies.

A Special Care Unit (SCU) also referred to as a level 1 neonatal unit: provides stabilisation for sick or preterm infants prior to transfer to the LNU or NICU and provides ongoing care nearer to many family’s homes.

Surfactant Deficiency Lung Disease (SDLD) a respiratory condition affecting some newborn babies in which the lungs are imperfectly expanded, surfactant is often used to treat the condition

Tachypnoea a fast breathing rate

Tachycardia a fast heart rate

Tube feeding a fine soft tube is passed through the nose or into the mouth to the stomach to feed your baby if they are not able to breast or bottle feed

Transient Tachypnoea of the Newborn  (TTN) a respiratory condition of the newborn caused by fluid from the womb remaining in the baby’s lungs following birth


Apnoea Mattress/alarm a machine used to detect and alert staff if a baby has an apnoea

Cannula a small hollow plastic tube that is inserted into the babies vein which is used to give intravenous fluids and/or antibiotics to the baby

Cardiac Monitor a machine used to monitor the baby’s heart rate by placing small electrodes onto the baby’s chest. Often monitors are set up to detect the baby’s breathing rate, oxygen saturation and blood pressure

Central Line (long line) an intravenous line that goes into a vein to a location close to the heart, used to give intravenous fluids and/or antibiotics

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) a type of ventilation that supports the baby’s own breathing effort using prongs in the babies nose

Endotracheal Tube (ETT) a soft plastic tube inserted into the nose (sometimes the mouth) into the windpipe (trachea) to help breathing

Hot cot either a Kanmed or Inditherm, both are designed to help your baby maintain their temperature using a heated mattress if they are unable to do this in a cot

Incubator a transparent perspex boxlike bed where sick or preterm babies are nursed and observed. This allows the air temperature around the baby to be controlled

Infusion pump used to give intravenous fluids to your baby, a line goes from the bag of fluid via the pump and is attached to a cannula in the baby’s vein

Phototherapy an ultraviolet light used to treat jaundice, either by a light placed over the incubator, the baby will be nursed in only a nappy and their eyes will be covered, a bilibed where the baby lies on a mattress again naked in a special cover but their eyes won’t be covered or a biliblanket

Pulse Oximetry (Sao2) a small machine which measures the amount of oxygen in the baby’s blood. A small sensor is placed on the baby’s foot or hand, you will notice a red light when the machine is on, this does not hurt the baby, it does not get hot but the position does need to be changed frequently to avoid undue pressure on the skin

Umbilical Catheters thin hollow tubes placed into the baby’s umbilicus (tummy button) either into a vein (UVC) or an artery (UAC) which can be used to give intravenous feeds and antibiotics, to monitor the baby’s blood pressure and to take blood samples

Ventilator a machine that supports the baby’s breathing, tubing from the machine connects to the Endotracheal Tube (ETT) in the baby’s nose and trachea