Common Words & Terms

You may be wondering what tests and procedures your baby may have whilst admitted on the neonatal unit and how you may be able to offer them comfort during those, if you wish to do so. For more information on common tests and procedures care, please visit this link: The role of parents in medical procedures | Bliss 

Common Conditions on a Neonatal Unit

The neonatal unit treats a large variety of different medical and surgical conditions. The staff on your unit will give you information about your baby’s condition, but if you ever want to know more, you can ask them, and they will be happy to talk to you about any questions you might have. For more information on specific conditions, please visit this helpful page: Health A to Z – NHS (   

Role of a parent

Common words and terms used on a neonatal unit

This information has been taken from the BLISS webpage. It contains a guide to help you understand some of the common words and terms you might hear while on a neonatal unit. 

When you are new to the neonatal unit, it can feel like you hear many new words. You might hear medical words or shortened or abbreviated words which you have not heard before. This can feel confusing and overwhelming at what may be a very difficult time. 

You have the right to understand the care your baby is getting and how they are doing. The neonatal team will work to make sure they explain things in a way that you understand. 

If you are ever unsure about your baby’s care, or you do not know what some words mean, let the staff know. They will be happy to explain things in a different way for you and explain anything you are unsure about. 

To find the term you are interested in, scroll through the alphabetical list below. 


Acidosis (pronounced ass-sid-oh-sis) A high level of natural acid in the blood. This can be because the lungs are not working well, or because not enough oxygen is reaching parts of the body. It can be a combination of both. Sometimes, the body produces too much acid, or the kidneys do not remove the acids from the blood. This is called metabolic acidosis. 

Anaemia (pronounced anne-eem-me-ah) Too little haemoglobin in the blood (see ‘Haemoglobin’). 

Apgar score A simple way of checking a baby’s health immediately after birth, by scoring ‘points’ for heart rate, breathing, skin colour, tone and the baby’s reactions. 

Apnoea (pronounced app-knee-ah) A pause in breathing for 20 seconds or longer. 

Apnoea of prematurity Premature babies may have an apnoea because of being the part of the brain that controls breathing is not developed yet. Often the baby starts breathing on their own but might need to be gently helped by moving them slightly. Caffeine is often given to help with this. Apnoeas in premature babies might happen more than once. Most babies will grow out of apnoea of prematurity by the time they are around 36 weeks. 

Apnoea alarms or monitors A monitor that checks that a baby is breathing regularly. These set off an alarm if the baby pauses for 20 seconds or longer between breaths. 

Asphyxia (pronounced ass-fix-ee-ya) A condition where there is too little oxygen and too little blood flow in the body. This can cause injury to the brain and other organs in the body. The most common time for asphyxia to happen is during labour (whilst the baby is being born) or at birth. 

Aspirate (pronounced ass-pi-rate) This word is used in different ways in the neonatal unit: 

  1. Doctors and nurses might talk about ‘checking the aspirate’ before putting a milk feed down a nasogastric or orogastric tube. This means that a syringe is attached to the end of the feeding tube to get a small amount of the baby’s stomach contents. It will be tested by using a pH paper or stick to make sure that the tube is in the stomach, and it is safe for feeding. This aspirate will be checked regularly.
  2. You might hear the word ‘aspirate’ used when something other than air (eg. meconium) is inhaled into a baby’s lungs before the baby has been fully born. This is called meconium aspiration, which can be a serious, although rare, condition (see ‘Meconium’ and ‘Meconium aspiration’ for further information).
  3. Milk aspiration is when the baby inhales small amounts of milk when feeding. This can happen if they are premature and have not yet developed some skills needed for feeding. 

Audiology (hearing) tests There are two ways of assessing a baby’s hearing. Both involve placing earphones over the baby’s ears to deliver a series of clicks. The baby’s responses to the clicks are then analysed. 


Bagging Putting a mask connected to a squeezable bag or pressure device over the baby’s nose and mouth to help breathing. 

Bilirubin (pronounced billy-roo-bin) A yellow part in the blood that gives a yellow colouring to the skin. High levels can be dangerous, and cause jaundice. 

Blood cultures If doctors think that a baby may have an infection, a small blood sample is taken and added to and sent to the laboratory for testing. Results are available after 48 hours. When it is known what bacteria are in the baby’s body, the team can check that the baby is on the right antibiotics to kill that bacteria. 

Blood gases This is a test done in a laboratory to find out the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide gases and acids in the blood. Medical staff do this to work out how well the lungs and circulation are functioning, and to make sure any breathing help they are getting is working well. The number of gases that need to be checked will depend on the problems the baby is having. Some blood gas tests also measure the amount of salt (often called sodium) in a baby’s blood. 

Blood pressure This is the pressure generated in the body’s arteries by the pumping of the heart. It is often monitored in babies who are unwell. They can do this using a cuff on the baby’s leg or arm, or a line in their vein. If the blood pressure is too low, the baby may be treated with medicine. 

Blood transfusion This is when extra blood is given from a donor. A blood transfusion might be needed to treat severe anaemia (a serious lack of red blood cells), low blood pressure, or during or after an operation. 

Bradycardia (brad-ee-card-ee-ah) This is when the heart rate slows down for a period of time. This is common in premature babies. It is usually part of apnoea of prematurity (see above). The baby usual recovers on their own. Sometimes, the staff might need to stimulate the baby to make them respond. Bradycardia usually stops after about 36 weeks’ gestation. 

Breast pump Piece of equipment used for expressing breast milk. They can be manual (done by hand) or electric. 

Broncho Pulmonary Dysplasia (pronounced bron-co pul-mon-air-ree dis-play-zee-a) See ‘Chronic lung disease’. 



Candida (pronounced can-di-dah) A yeast infection (where fungus grows) of the skin, mouth, gut, groin or inside parts of the genitals). 

Cannula (pronounced can-you-la) A very small, short, soft plastic tube that is put into a baby’s vein to give fluids or medicines straight into the bloodstream without having to keep using needles. Veins in the arms and legs are usually used, although sometimes the veins in the baby’s scalp have to be used. A cannula can last for several days but can also need to be changed every few hours. 

Cannulae (pronounced can-you-lee)  Soft plastic prongs which go into the nose to send oxygen into the lungs. 

Centile charts (pronounced sen-tile) Graphs showing the normal ranges of body measurements at different ages, like weight and the size of the baby’s head. 

Cerebrospinal fluid (sometimes called CSF, and pronounced se-ree-bro-spy-nal) Fluid made within the parts of the brain which flow down and around the spinal cord. If anything gets in the way of this flow, fluid can’t be removed and the pressure rises. This can cause the parts of the brain to get bigger, which can lead to a condition called hydrocephalus. 

Cerebral Function Monitor (sometimes called CFM) A machine that looks at the background electrical activity in the brain. It can tell if a baby might have a fit. This is often used for babies born at term (near their due date) who might have asphyxia (see above) and are being treated on a cooling mattress. 

Chest drain A tube passed through the chest wall into the space between the lungs and the outside of the chest to drain off air or fluid leaking from the lung. 

Chronic lung disease (CLD) A condition of the lung that may happen because the baby has been on a ventilator for a long time. With CLD, the baby needs more oxygen and may find breathing difficult. This can take some time to improve. CLD is also known as broncho pulmonary dysplasia (BPD, see above). 

Chronological age (pronounced cron-a-lodge-ick-al) A baby’s age from their date of birth. 

Cooling mattress A cooling mattress is used to treat hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE, see below). The mattress cools the baby to prevent damage to the brain. 

Corrected age The age a premature baby would be if they had been born on their due date. 

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) A type of treatment used to help a baby’s breathing and helping them have fewer moments of apnoea. Using a CPAP machine, the lungs are expanded by applying a small amount of pressure (oxygen or air) through small prongs just inside the nose or by a small mask over the nose. In some cases, a premature baby may be on and off CPAP for several weeks. 

CT scanner This is a special type of X-ray machine that is more detailed than a normal X-ray. In babies, it is usually used to look in detail at parts of the brain or sometimes the chest. 

Cyanosis (pronounced sigh-an-oh-sis) When there is not enough oxygen in the blood. It can make the skin, lips, the tongue and nails appear a blue, dusky colour. 


Developmental Care This is about making the baby’s surroundings as free of stress as possible to help improve how your baby develops over time. This is done in several ways, by: 

  • Reducing the amount of light and noise that the baby is exposed to. The staff might cover the incubator with a sheet or specially made cover 
  • Creating a ‘nest’ to nurse a baby, which makes them feel more comfortable and secure 
  • Changing how your baby is disturbed 
  • Massaging your baby 
  • Involving babies in caring for their baby on the unit – for example Kangaroo Care. 

Dysmorphic When the doctors and nurses see some features in a baby that are unusual. In many cases, the features turn out to be normal and cause no concern. If there is a problem, a number of tests will be carried out and, if necessary, other specialists may be asked to look at your baby and give an opinion. 

Drip When fluids or blood are passed into a vein or artery using a needle or plastic tube. The word drip is sometimes used instead of Cannula. 


Electrocardiogram (sometimes called ECG, and pronounced ee-leck-tro-car-dee-oh-gram) A test to look at the heart’s electrical activity. 

Electroencephalogram (sometimes called EEG and pronounced ee-leck-tro-en-seph-la-gram) A test to look at the brain’s electrical activity. This is often done in a different unit of the hospital. 

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (sometimes called ECMO, and pronounced ex-tra-corp-or-ree-al mem-brain ox-i-gin-a-shon) This machine puts oxygen into the blood when a baby born at term is not able to do this using their heart and lungs. It might be used in very sick babies when treatment with a ventilator has not worked. As this is a special machine, babies might need to be moved to another hospital for this treatment. 

Electrolytes (pronounced E-leck-tro-lites) Salts in the body (which can be measured in blood tests) that are essential for the body to work. 

Endotracheal tube (sometimes called an ET tube, and pronounced en-doe-track-eel) Soft plastic tube put through the mouth or nose into the windpipe (trachea), which is attached to a ventilator to help breathing. It is often called a tracheal or ET tube. 

Exchange transfusion Replacing a baby’s blood with blood from an adult donor. This is done if a baby’s jaundice level (see below) is very high and they are not getting better with treatment. 

Expressed breast milk (EBM) Expressing breast milk means to use a pump, hands or both to get milk from the mum’s breasts. The milk can be stored in a fridge or freezer or given directly to the baby. 

Extremely low birthweight A baby born weighing less than 1000g. 

Extubate (pronounced ex-tube-ate) Removing the endotracheal tube (see above) from the windpipe. 


Fontanelle (pronounced fon-tan-el) Soft spots on a baby’s head that disappear by 18 months, as the skull bones grow and join together. 

Family-centred care This means involving families in the care of their baby on the unit. Find out more information about family-centred care. 

Family-integrated care This is a care model, which is an extension of the principles of family-centred care. This model can be used by neonatal units. 


Gases and Gas monitor See ‘Blood gases’.

Gestational age (pronounced jest-a-shon-al) The number of weeks the baby has been in the womb is known as the gestation. Being born at term means being born after 37 full weeks in the womb but before 42 weeks. If a baby is born before 37 weeks’ gestation, they are considered to be premature (sometimes called preterm by medical staff).

Glucose monitor This is a machine that can measure the amount of glucose (sugars) in the blood. 

Grunting A noise made by a baby with breathing difficulty. 


Haemoglobin (pronounced hee-ma-glow-bin) Carries oxygen around the body. It is found in the red blood cells. 

Head circumference (pronounced sir-come-for-ence) Measurement of the biggest distance around the baby’s head. 

Heat shield Clear plastic shell placed over the baby to prevent heat loss. 

Heated, humidified high-flow nasal cannula (HHHFNC, or high-flow) Where warm, moist air flows into your baby’s lungs through small tubes in their nose. 

High dependency unit (HDU) Another way to describe the level of care babies get in a local neonatal unit. Babies who need a higher level of medical and nursing support than provided in a special care baby unit (SCBU) are cared for here.

High frequency oscillatory ventilation A type of ventilator. With most ventilators, you can see the baby’s chest rise and fall at the breathing speed that has been set, which looks like regular breathing. Oscillators use very fast speeds, so the baby’s chest appears to vibrate. This may look alarming, but this type of ventilation works extremely well for some of the lung conditions that babies may have. 

Humidity To prevent premature babies losing too much water through their skin, they are often looked after in warm, humidified incubators. This is why there is sometimes mist on incubators. Humidity (water) is also added to the gases the baby breathes through the ventilator, CPAP or high-flow machines (see above). 

Hyaline membrane disease (HMD) A breathing problem in which the lungs are stiff and collapse instead of staying filled with air. This is also known as respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). 

Hydrocephalus (pronounced high-dro-keff-al-uss) When too much fluid is present inside the parts of the brain. The increased pressure in the brain might cause the head size to increase very quickly. 

Hypocalcaemia (pronounced high-po-cal-sea-me-a) A low blood calcium level. 

Hypoglycaemia (pronounced high-po-gly-sea-me-a) A low blood glucose level. 

Hypothermia (pronounced high-po-ther-me-a) A body temperature of below 35.5°C (95°F). 

Hypoxia (pronounced high-pox-ee-a) A low amount of oxygen in the body tissues. 


Incubator A heated bed covered by a clear plastic box that allows the baby to be kept warm without clothes so that they can be monitored very closely. Humidity and extra oxygen can be run into the incubator if needed. The levels of oxygen can be very closely controlled and monitored. 

Incubator cover A special cover that is made to fit over an incubator to shield the baby from light and noise. 

Infusion pump Like a syringe, and provides fluids, medicine or nutrients directly into the blood or gut. These can be given over a set period of time. 

Inotrope A medicine used to support blood pressure 

Intra-ventricular haemorrhage (sometimes called IVH, and pronounced in-tra-ven-trick-you-la hem-or-ridge) This is a common in premature babies where there is bleeding into the fluid chambers (ventricles) of the brain. IVHs are graded 1-4, according to their size, and are found on an ultrasound scan. Grade 1 bleeds are quite common in premature babies and tend to have no long-term consequences. Grade 4 bleeds (the biggest) means that there is bleeding into the brain tissue and may mean the baby has difficulties as they develop and grow. 

Intravenous (IV) lines Fine tubes (cannula) that are sometimes put into a blood vessel – usually in a hand, foot, arm or leg – in order to give fluid or medicine directly into the blood. 

Intravenous (IV) nutrition A way of supplying all the most important nutrients directly into the blood through an IV line (see above).



Jaundice (pronounced jawn-dis) A yellowness of the skin and/or whites of the eyes caused by a high level of bilirubin (see above) in the blood. It is very common in babies, and is caused by the normal breakdown of the baby’s red blood cells. However, high levels can be dangerous and phototherapy (shining blue light onto the baby’s skin) may be needed to prevent high levels. 

Jejunal feeding (pronounced ju-jew-nal) Putting milk, using a special soft tube through the nostrils, into the jejunum (part of the small intestine). This is not as common as other types of tube feeding. 



Long line This is a longer cannula that is put into a vein in the arm, leg or head, with the end of the line lying close to the heart. It is also sometimes called a central line. These lines are used to give the baby IV nutrition directly into a vein when the starting of milk feeds has to be delayed. They can also be used for medication. 

Low birth weight (LBW) There are three categories of low birth weight: 

  • Low birth weight (LBW) – a weight at birth of less than 2500g 
  • Very low birth weight (VLBW) – a weight at birth of less than 1500g 
  • Extremely low birth weight (ELBW) – a weight at birth of less than 1000g

Low flow oxygen A way of giving small amounts of oxygen to babies 

Lumbar puncture (LP) or Lumbar tap Meningitis is a very bad infection around the outside layers (called membranes) of their brain and spinal cord. If doctors are worried your baby might be getting this condition, they will take action quickly, as it can become serious. The doctor or nurse practitioner will put a small needle into one of the spaces low down in your baby’s back, take some of the fluid and send it for testing. The team will offer your baby things like expressed breast milk to help ease any pain. 


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans Scans that can give a very useful computer-generated picture of the organs inside a baby without harming them. If your baby has an MRI scan, they will be placed in a special incubator that keeps them safe and warm while inside the scanner. MRI images are very useful for checking for any brain damage, and can help see how a brain is maturing. In most hospitals, the MRI unit will be in a different part of the hospital, so the baby will need to be well enough to travel there. 

Meconium (pronounced mew-co-knee-um) A dark greenish sticky solid that builds up in the baby’s digestive system before they are born. It usually starts being passed as bowel movements within 24 hours after birth. 

Meconium aspiration (pronounced mew-co-knee-um ass-pir-ray-shon) A baby who becomes distressed during labour and before they are born may pass meconium while they are still in the womb. If the baby then breathes the fluid which is surrounding them in, the sticky material can block part of the airways. This can cause inflammation in the lung, and mean the baby finds it hard to breathe soon after they are born. 

Morphine (pronounced more-feen) A drug used to reduce the discomfort and stress that babies might experience from some of the treatments they need. It can reduce their own breathing, and so the drug is usually reduced or stopped when a baby is taken off a ventilator. If a baby has needed it for quite a long time, they might become jittery when it is stopped, due to not having the drug in their system anymore. 



Nasal cannula (pronounced nase-al can-you-la) Small tube put into the nostrils to give a baby oxygen. 

Nasogastric feeds (sometimes called NG feeds, and pronounced nase-oh-gas-trick) Nutrition fed using a fine, soft tube passed through the nose into the stomach. 

Nasogastric tube (sometimes called an NG tube) A long, thin, soft plastic tube that is passed through a baby’s nose into their stomach. This tube is used to give milk to a baby until they are strong enough to take milk from the breast or a bottle. 

Neonate The first four weeks of a baby’s life (up to 28 days). 

Necrotising enterocolitis (sometimes called NEC, and pronounced neck-crot-tize-ing ent-er-co-light-is) A serious condition, where tissue in the bowel (small and large intestines) becomes inflamed. NEC can make a baby temporarily unable to take milk, and at its worst it can cause parts of the bowel to become so damaged that tissue within it dies. NEC can affect just a small part of the bowel, or sometimes the whole bowel can be affected. It is common 

NICU This stands for the neonatal intensive care unit. 

Nitric oxide This is normally made in the body to relax blood vessels. It means blood can flow to all parts of the body. When the blood vessels to the lungs stay narrow, nitric oxide is sometimes given in the air and oxygen given to a baby to cause them to relax and allow blood flow to the lungs. 

NNU This stands for the neonatal unit. 



Oedema (pronounced oh-deem-a) Swelling caused by too much fluid in the tissues under the skin. 

Open cots When a baby can keep their own body temperature stable, they can be transferred from an incubator into a cot without a roof. 

Orogastric tube A fine tube passed through the mouth and into the stomach. It is used to give milk to the baby. Sometimes this is done instead of passing the tube through the nose (see Nasogastric tube above) 

Oxygen saturation This is measured by placing a special probe on the hand or foot of the baby. This can measure the amount of oxygen flowing through the baby’s blood vessels. If the oxygen level drops, the alarm will alert the nurse. If the baby is moving around a lot, sometimes the reading is not lower than it actually is. 


Parenteral nutrition Nutrition given directly into the bloodstream. It is often called total parenteral nutrition or TPN. The liquid contains sugars, proteins, fats and vitamins – everything the baby needs to grow. Parenteral feeding solutions are often given through a long line. 

Patent ductus arteriosus (sometimes called PDA, and pronounced pa-tent duck-tuss art-ear-ree-oh-sis) Where the small connection between the vessels supplying the lungs with blood, and the vessels supplying blood to the body, stays open. This is a very common problem for very premature babies. 

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) ligation An operation which mends a PDA (see above). 

Peak Inspiratory Pressure (PIP) The pressure applied by the ventilator to inflate the lungs (breathing in). 

PEEP (positive end expiratory pressure) Pressure applied during breathing out. This helps to stop the lungs from collapsing while the baby is on the ventilator (see hyaline membrane disease above). 

Periodic breathing When a baby pauses breathing for up to 10 seconds. 

Periventricular leukomalacia (sometimes called PVL, and pronounced perry-ven-trick-you-la luke-oh-mal-a-zee-a) This is where the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen and blood flow when it is developing, and the brain cells may die and be replaced with fluid cysts. These can be seen in ultrasound scans of a baby’s brain. Depending on the area affected, PVL may show possible future problems with development. 

Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (sometimes called persistent fetal circulation, and pronounced pur-sis-tant pul-mon-air-ree high-per-ten-shon) Before birth, the blood vessels of the lungs are narrow. If the blood vessels do not relax after birth, lungs can’t get enough blood flow. Oxygen, ventilation, and sometimes nitric oxide and drugs are given to open the narrow vessels. 

pH The acidity (low pH value) or alkalinity (raised pH value) of the blood. A value close to 7.3 is normal for a baby’s arterial blood (blood which comes from the heart and to the rest of the body). 

Phototherapy Using blue (not ultraviolet) light to reduce the bilirubin level in babies with jaundice (see above). 

Physiotherapy Special treatment to help a baby’s development in their movement and behaviour. This might include advice on positioning and stretching exercises, as well as treatments for their chest. 

Platelets A part of the blood that helps with clotting. If levels are low, platelets can be given in a blood transfusion. 

Pneumothorax (pronounced new-mo-thor-axe) When the lung has leaked air between the lung and chest wall (rib cage). This makes it hard for the lungs to expand and take in air. The air can be removed using a chest drain (see above). 

Posset When the baby brings up a small amount of milk after feeding. 

Pre-eclampsia This condition is quite common in pregnancies and can cause the baby to be born prematurely. It can be dangerous, particularly if it develops quickly. The main symptoms are headaches and swollen feet, which are linked to having high blood pressure. Bed-rest can help, but sometimes the only way to stop pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby early. 

Preterm baby A word used by health professionals to describe a premature baby, born before reaching 37 in the womb. 

Pulse oximeter This measures oxygen saturation levels (see above). 



Resuscitate The help given to babies (usually at birth but sometimes during their stay in the neonatal unit) when they need urgent help with their breathing and circulation. 

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) Damage to the retina (back) area of the eye that is sensitive to light. Premature babies and those born with a very low birth weight are at a higher risk of this condition. It is linked to the amount of oxygen in the blood reaching the retina. It is most common in premature babies born before 32 week’s gestation, or babies born weighing under 1500g at birth. These babies are regularly checked for retinopathy of prematurity by a specialist ophthalmologist (a doctor who is an expert in the eyes). 

Respiratory syncytial virus (sometimes called RSV, and pronounced res-pir-a-tor-ree sink-ee-tal vi-russ) This virus causes cold-like symptoms, and affects a lot of babies. RSV can make it harder to breathe if the lungs are affected. If your baby was born prematurely, gets a lot of lung infections, or was born with a congenital heart problem, they could become more poorly than other babies if they catch RSV. Very high risk babies might be given a vaccination against the virus. 


Saturation monitor (prounounced sat-ture-a-shon) See ‘Pulse oximeter’. 

Scans (ultrasound) The ultrasound scan used on the neonatal unit is similar scans done on pregnant women. The most common scan is on the brain. This is done with a small probe on the fontanelle (see above). There can be lots of reasons for doing scans, but usually it will be to monitor a premature baby’s brain, as they are at risk of bleeding into the brain. Other parts of the body that might need ultrasound scanning are the tummy or the heart. A scan of the heart is often called an echocardiograph, shortened to an ‘echo’. 

SCBU This stands for special care baby unit. 

Small for gestational age (SGA) A baby whose birth weight is lower than that of 90% of babies of the same gestational age (see above). 

Sleep study This is a test done on babies who have been on oxygen for a long time. It is often done a short time before the baby is due to go home. The test sees whether the baby can keep their own oxygen levels in a safe range. If the baby is to going to go home on oxygen, then the test is used to set the amount of oxygen that the baby will need. Usually the sleep study will happen over a period of 12 hours and must include a period when the baby is in quiet sleep, as this is the time that the body’s oxygen levels are usually at their lowest. 

Steroids Steroids (or corticosteriods) are used in several ways. They can be: 

  • Given to mums before the baby is born, when the birth seems likely to happen early. The drug crosses the placenta and causes the baby’s lungs to mature, ready for breathing. 
  • Given in the first week or so after birth to babies getting intensive care, to improve the blood pressure in babies with very low blood pressure, where other medication is not working 
  • Given to babies with chronic lung disease (see above), as it may be difficult for the baby to come off the breathing machine. Low doses of steroids can reduce any inflammation (swelling) in the lung.

Stridor A harsh noise made by a baby on breathing in, because of a blockage in the upper airway. 

Surfactant (pronounced sir-fact-ant) A mixture of chemicals that stop the lungs from collapsing when the baby breathes out. The lungs start making this at about 24 weeks’ gestation but is not well developed before 36 weeks. This can be the cause of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS – see above). Replacement surfactant can be given as a liquid into the lungs of the premature baby soon after birth. 

Syringe driver See infusion pump above. 


Tachycardia (pronounced tack-ee-card-ee-ya) A rapid heartbeat. Sometimes health professionals might say a baby is ‘tachy’ if they have a fast heart rate. 

Tachypnoea (pronounced tack-ip-knee-a) Rapid breathing rate. 

Temperature skin probe A small device that is put on the skin to measure the baby’s temperature. 

Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) See ‘Parenteral Nutrition’ above. 

Transcutaneous monitors (pronounced trans-cue-tain-ee-uss) This is a monitoring device that is put on the skin to measure the blood oxygen or carbon dioxide levels. 

Transient tachypnoea of the newborn (TTN). 

This affects babies born at term. In the womb, babies have their lungs full of fluid (amniotic fluid) which is very important for lung growth. When they are born, the baby takes a few deep breaths and pushes the fluid out into their circulation. If the baby does not take enough deep breaths, the lungs keep some of the fluid. 

Transport incubators This is a special incubator that is used if the baby needs to be transferred to another hospital or a different part of the hospital. to another hospital or a different part of the hospital. 

Trophic feeds Very small volume tube feeds that are given to prepare the gut at the start of feeding. 

Tube feeding When the baby is fed through a small, fine tube that runs from the nose or mouth straight into the stomach. It is mainly used when a baby is too unwell or premature to feed by themselves. 


Ultrasound scan See ‘Scans’ above. 

Umbilical catheter A plastic tube put through one an umbilical artery or vein. A catheter in the artery is used to take blood samples and to measure blood pressure. A catheter in the vein is used to give fluids and drugs. 


Ventilation is mechanical support with breathing, so that the baby will be able to have normal levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in their blood when unable to achieve them for themselves. There are several different types of ventilation. 

Ventricle (cardiac) – pronounced ven-trick-al  The pumping chamber of the heart. 

Ventricle (brain) Space within the brain filled with cerebrospinal fluid (see above). This is where bleeding most commonly occurs in premature babies (see intra-ventricular haemorrhage above). 

Ventricular tap (pronounced ven-trick-you-la) After an intra-ventricular haemorrhage (see above) a quick build-up of cerebrospinal fluid may happen, causing the head to grow too quickly (hydrocephalus, see above). This can be temporarily treated by putting a needle through the fontanelle (see above) and taking out some of the excess cerebrospinal fluid. 

Ventriculo-peritoneal (VP) shunt (pronounced ven-trick-you-lo perry-ton-eel) 

This is a tube with one end put into the ventricles in the brain, and the other into the abdominal cavity (in the tummy) to drain cerebrospinal fluid. This is used as a treatment for hydrocephalus (see above). 

Very low birth weight (VLBW) A baby born that is less than 1500g. 

Vital signs monitor A monitor that measures important signs like blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation levels. 

Vitamin K A naturally-occurring vitamin that is important for the clotting of blood. Newborn babies often don’t have enough vitamin K and are given it to stop them from bleeding too much. 

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