A-Z Definitions

Please note that this page is being continuously developed. Not all definitions relating to high-risk pregnancy and premature and sick newborns are included.


Acidosis - A condition where there is too much acid in the body fluids. The kidneys and lungs maintain the balance (proper pH level) of chemicals called acids and bases in the body. Acidosis occurs when acid builds up or when bicarbonate (a base) is lost.

Allergist/Immunologist - A medical specialist who helps treat allergies or other problems relating to the immune system.

Anaemia of prematurity - A lack of red blood cells caused by early birth. In the last weeks of pregnancy, the process that the body uses to make red blood cells changes drastically and a large amount of iron is transferred to the fetus. Babies who are born early become more anaemic than term babies and more often need treatment for anaemia. This condition is made worse by frequent blood draws for pathology testing in the NICU.

Anaesthetic - An anaesthetic is a drug or agent that produces a complete or partial loss of feeling. There are three kinds of anaesthetic: general, regional and local. An anaesthetist will administer a general anaesthetic.

Analgesic - Also known as "painkillers", analgesics are medicines which relieve pain.

Antibiotics - Usually given intravenously to combat infection.

Aorta - The large artery that brings blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

APGAR score - A quick test performed on a baby at 1 and 5 minutes after birth. The 1-minute score determines how well the baby tolerated the birthing process. The 5-minute score tells the doctor how well the baby is doing outside the mother's womb. The tests evaluate the heart rate, respiration, muscle tone and colour.

Apnoea of prematurity - Short episodes of stopped breathing (20 second or more) in babies who were born before they were due.

Apnoea monitor - Monitor connected to a baby with a sensor that detects abdominal wall movement. It will not detect obstructive apnoea.

Arterial catheter/line - A small thin plastic tube, similar to an IV catheter that is inserted into a patient’s artery. An arterial catheter allows staff to monitor a patient’s blood pressure and provides access for blood testing. 

Artery - Blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the tissues of the body.

Asphyxia - Lack of oxygen or excess of carbon dioxide in the body.

Aspiration - To draw in or out using a sucking motion. Usually referred to newborns when material is breathed into the windpipe (trachea) or lungs, or suctioned from the stomach or windpipe.

Audiologist - Medical specialist who looks at the hearing, balance and related disorders.


Bagging - (slang) A mask attached to a squeezable bag placed over the baby's mouth and nose to ventilate the lungs.

Bilirubin - Bilirubin is a yellow substance that the body creates when it replaces old red blood cells. The liver helps break down the substance so it can be removed from the body in the stool. The cause of jaundice.

Bilirubin lights (bili lights, photo therapy) - Bili lights are a phototherapy tool used to treat jaundice.  They are very bright blue lights that convert bilirubin so that the body is able to excrete it through urine and faeces. Soft 'sunglasses' or eye shields are placed over babies eyes to prevent any damage to the eyes from the lights.

Blood count - Test to ascertain the number of red and white blood cells in the body.

Blood culture - Test to detect bacteria in the blood.

Blood gas test - Babies heel is pricked and a small amount of blood is collected in a very thin tube.  The tube is then inserted into a machine which provides a reading of the gas levels (oxygen, carbon dioxide, acidity & haemoglobin) in the blood.

Blood pressure (BP) - The pressure of the blood against the inner walls of the arteries as it is pumped around the body by the heart.

Blood sugar test - Test that measures the amount of a type of sugar, called glucose, in the blood.

Blood test - Blood is taken from a heel prick or a vein puncture and tested for a number of different things just like a regular blood test in an adult.

Blood transfusion - Normal blood volume at birth varies with gestational age.  Some babies born prematurely who weigh less than 1kg can have a blood volume of 80ml or less.  Unfortunately it takes time for babies bodies to learn to make blood of their own, this process can also be hampered by illness.  As blood is taken regularly for testing while baby is in NICU/SCN blood transfusions may be necessary to replenish blood volume.

Bonding - Establishing a close relationship between a parent and baby.

Bradycardia - A slower than normal heart rate. For newborns, this is less than 100 beats per minute. Normal foetal heart rate is 120-160, whilst newborn averages 140.

Breast pump - A device that allows to the extraction/expressing of breast milk from the mother. These can be machine or manual. 

Bronchial tubes - Large, delicate tubes that carry air into the tiny branches and smaller cells of the lungs after this air has passed through the mouth, nasal passages, and windpipe (trachea).

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) - A form of chronic lung disease that can develop in preterm neonates treated with oxygen and positive-pressure ventilation.


Caffeine use - In infants with apnea, caffeine is used to stimulate the central respiratory center, decrease the carbon dioxide threshold and increase the response to hypercapnea.

Candida - A common yeast (fungal) infection which can lead to infection of the skin and moist body surfaces.

Cannula - A tube inserted into the body to facilitate the delivery or removal of fluid.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) - Gaseous waste exhaled by the lungs.

Cardiac ultrasound - Also known as echocardiography, concerns the ultrasound imaging of the heart.

Cardio respiratory monitor (CRM) - 3 small sticky dots are placed on babies chest with leads connecting them to a large monitor.  The monitor provides data readouts of babies pulse and respiratory rate.

Cardiologist - Medical specialist who diagnoses and treats diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) - A combination of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions that delivers oxygen and artificial circulation to a person whose heart has stopped.

Cardiovascular system - Responsible for transporting nutrients and removing gaseous waste from the body. This system is comprised of the heart and the circulatory system. Structures of the cardiovascular system include the heart, blood vessels, and blood.

Cardiovascular surgeon - Doctors who operate on your heart and blood vessels to repair damage caused by diseases or disorders of the cardiovascular system.

CAT/CT scan (Computed tomography) -  is a technology that uses computer-processed x-rays to produce tomographic images (virtual 'slices') of specific areas of the scanned object.

Catheter - A thin hollow tube used to allow drainage from or administer fluids to the body.

Central apnoea - Apnoea caused by decreased central nervous system stimuli to respiratory muscles. Both the respiratory effort and airflow cease simultaneously.

Central line -  A long tube (catheter) that goes into a vein in your chest or arm and ends at your heart. Your central line will carry nutrients and medicine into your body. It can also be used to take blood when you need to have blood tests.

Cerebral Palsy (CP) - A group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. It is a permanent life-long condition, but generally does not worsen over time. It is due to damage to the developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. CP affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. People who have CP may also have visual, learning, hearing, speech, epilepsy and intellectual impairments.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) - A clear, colourless liquid that fills and surrounds the brain and the spinal cord that protects against injury.

Chest tube - A flexible plastic tube which is inserted into the chest cavity to remove air or drain fluid.

Chronic Lung Disease (CLD) - A general term for long-term respiratory problems in premature babies. Also known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).

Chronological age - The age of the baby from the day of actual birth, not from their due date.

Coagulation studies - Test to measure the ability of the blood to clot.

Colostomy - An operation that connects the colon to the abdominal wall.

Colostrum - The first fluid your breasts produce during pregnancy.

Congenital - Present at birth.

Congenital diaphragmatic hernia - A hole in the diaphragm (the muscle under the lungs that is responsible for breathing) that allows organs from the abdomen to move into the chest.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) - CPAP uses air pressure to keep the airway open.  The air delivered to baby can have additional oxygen added and the pressure can be increased or decreased as required.  Babies on CPAP are initiating all breathing for themselves.

Corrected age - The age of a baby if they were to be born on their due date. For example, if a baby were born 2 months early, 3 months after they were born, they would be 1 month corrected. 

Cranial ultrasound - A painless test using soundwaves to make images of the brain.

Cyanosis - A bluish colour to the skin or mucus membranes that is usually due to a lack of oxygen in the blood.


Dermatologist - Medical specialist who treats and manages diseases that affect the skin, hair or nails.

Desaturation - Commonly referring to oxygen saturation levels.  When the blood does not have enough oxygen it is called a desaturation.

Developmental delay - When a child is behind or less developed mentally or physically than is normal for his/her age.

Dextrose - A sugar that is the most common form of glucose.

Diaphragm - The muscle which separates the thorax from the abdomen.  It plays a major role in breathing helping to inflate the lungs.

Dietitian - A expert in food and nutrition.

Drip - Often referring to an intravenous infusion.


Echocardiogram (ECHO) - Most babies admitted to NICU/SCN will have a routine ECHO, which is essentially an ultrasound of the heart, to check for any anomalies in the heart and surrounding major arteries. If an anomaly is detected baby will receive further ECHOs to monitor their condition and referral to a cardiologist may be appropriate if the anomaly is serious or does not resolve.

Electrocardiogram (ECG) - The recording of the electrical activity of the heart.

Electrode - A conductor through which electricity flows.

Electroencephalogram (EEG) - The recording of the electrical activity of the brain.

Endocrinologist - A doctor who specialises in the treatment and diagnosis of hormone imbalances in the body including diabetes and thyroid conditions.

Endotracheal tube (ETT) - A tube inserted into the mouth or nose down the trachea to establish and maintain babies airway to ensure adequate exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.  Babies who are intubated (have an ET tube in place) are connected to a ventilator.

Exchange transfusion - The simultaneous removal of a patients blood and replacement with donated blood. Used in the treatment of serious conditions such as haemolytic disease of the newborn.

Expressed breast milk (EBM) - Breastmilk that has been expressed/pumped by the mother.

Expressing - The physical act of pumping and collecting breastmilk.

Extubate - The removal of a tube which was placed to assist with breathing.

Eye examination - An opthalmologist will perform an eye exam to check for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) in all at-risk neonates in the NICU/SCN.

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) - ECMO means the blood receives oxygen outside of the body.  It is used as a last resort when babies lungs are failing despite other treatments. ECMO takes over the work of the lungs allowing them time to rest and heal.


Fontanelle - A membrane covered opening between bones in the skill of an infant.

Formula milk - A milk mixture or substitute for feeding to an infant.


Gastric tube - A tube placed through the mouth or nose into the patients stomach to allow the delivery of liquid nutrition and medications.

Gastroentorologist - Treats and manages the gastrointestinal tracts,digestive system, liver and pancreas.

Gastroschisis - A congenital defect in the abdominal wall through which the abdominal contents protrude.

Gastrostomy - Surgical formation of an artificial opening into the stomach from the surface skin used for administration of liquid nutrition.

Geneticist - A person who studies or specialises in genetics.

Gestation - The period of development in the uterus from conception until birth.

Gestational age - The age of the foetus counting from the time of fertilisation.

Gestational diabetes can occur during pregnancy with short-term high blood glucose levels (blood sugar levels). If blood glucose levels are not controlled during your pregnancy, you may have a baby that is big, causing problems at birth. Baby may also have feeding and breathing difficulties after birth.  

Glucose - A carbohydrate and the most important simple sugar in human metabolism.

Group B Streptococcus - A common bacteria that is found in the body.  Routinely screened for late in pregnancy in Australia.  The bacteria can cause serious illness in the newborn and may also cause the mother to become unwell after delivery.

Grunting - Abnormal, short, deep, hoarse sounds in exhalation often a symptom of infants suffering respiratory distress.

Gynaecologist - Medical specialist who cares for the reproductive system.


Haemoglobin (Hb) - The oxygen carrying pigment of red blood cells that gives them their res colour and serves to carry oxygen around the body.

Haemorrhage - An escape of blood from a ruptured blood vessel.

Head box - A clear plastic chamber that fits over a patient's head with an adjustable seal around the neck to enable mechanical ventilation.  This device may help prevent the need for intubation.

Head circumference - The measurement of a persons head around the largest area.

Hearing test - Babies requiring care in NICU/SCN are at increased risk of hearing loss so routine hearing screening is undertaken once baby is well.  Small cups are placed over babies ears, several small sticky probes are attached to babies head each of these has a lead attaching it to a small machine.  A series of very soft 'click' sounds are sent through the cups on the ears, babies brain stem response is measured by the probes and a reading provided on the machine.  This is a screening test only and if there is any abnormality baby will be referred to an audiologist for more thorough testing.

Heart failure - Severe failure of the heart to function properly.

Heat shield - A heat shield or thermal blanket can be used to minimise heat loss from an infant.

Heel prick - Babies heel is pricked with a single use instrument to facilitate collection of blood for blood gas or full blood tests.

HELLP syndrome - A group of blood and liver problems: H--Hemolysis is the breakdown of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. EL--Elevated is liver enzymes. High levels of these chemicals can be a sign of liver problems. LP--Low platelet count. Platelets help the blood clot.

Hernia (inguinal) - A hernia in which a loop of intestine enters the inguinal canal, most common in males.

Hernia (umbilical) -  A hernia in which a loop of intestine protrudes through the abdominal wall hear the belly button, usually self correcting.

Hind milk - The milk that baby obtains at the end of a feeding.  It is very high in fat.

High Frequency Oscillatory Ventilator (HFOV) - A mechanical ventilator often used for babies not responding to conventional ventilation.  Many little breaths are delivered at a very high frequency.

Hi-Flow oxygen - A step down from CPAP high-flow oxygen is humidified oxygen enriched air delivered at a continuous gentle pressure through nasal cannula.  The air is humidified to reduce inflammation of the airways which can be caused by prolonged oxygen therapy.

Humidicrib/Incubator/Isolette - A large plastic box with portholes for your hands which provides stable temperature, humidity and oxygen levels for baby.

Hyaline membrane disease (HMD) - A condition in newborn babies in which the lungs do not have enough surfactant which prevents the proper expansion of the lungs and causes the formation of hyaline material in the lung spaces.  Common in very preterm infants.

Hydrocephalus - Where fluid accumulates in the brain which may cause the head to rapidly enlarge and can sometimes cause brain damage.

Hyperbilirubinemia (Jaundice) - Abnormally high abounts of bile pigment (bilirubin) in the blood.  Will cause yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Hypercapnia - Occurs when there is too much carbon dioxide, the waste product of respiration, in the blood.

Hyperglycemia - High blood sugar level.

Hypocalcaemia - Deficiency of calcium in the blood stream.

Hypoglymaemia - Low blood sugar level.

Hypothermia - The condition of having abnormally low body temperature.

Hypoxia - Deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) - Is the brain injury caused by asphyxia, also known as oxygen deprivation.  This can occur during birth and is the leading cause of death or severe impairment among infants.


Incompetent cervix is when your cervix (the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina) softens, shortens (effaces) and opens (dilates) too early. This condition may also be referred to as an insufficient cervix.

Incubator/Isolette/Humidicrib - A large plastic box with portholes for your hands which provides stable temperature, humidity and oxygen levels for baby.

Infection - The invasion of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites that are not normally present within the body.  An infection can be localised or spread through the body.

Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR) - A condition in which an unborn baby is significantly smaller than it should be because it is not growing at the normal rate inside the mother.  There can be many causes for this condition.

Intravenous (IV) fluid - The infusion of liquids directly into the blood stream.

Intravenous nutrition - The infusion of the most vital nutrients (TPN) directly into the blood.

Intraventricular haemorrhage (IVH) - Often abbreviated as IVH.  Is bleeding into the fluid-filled areas (ventricles) inside the brain.  A condition that often occurs in preterm infants.

Intubation - The process of putting a tube into the throat to access the airway.  Often to enable mechanical ventilation.

Isolation - Often occurrs when baby has, or is thought to have a transmitable illness.  The process of keeping baby alone in a separate area to the main nursery with isolation staff and higher levels of personal protection e.g. gloves, gowns and masks at all times.


Jaundice - Yellowish discolouration of the whites of the eyes, skin and mucous membranes arising from excess of bilirubin and typically caused by obstruction of the bile duct, liver disease or excessive breakdown of red blood cells.


Kangaroo care - A method of caring for a premature or newborn baby where the infant is held skin to skin in contact with a parent (typically the mother) for as long as possible each day.


Lactation - The secretion of milk by the mammary glands.

Lanugo - The soft delicate hair which covers a foetus or newborn baby.

Large for gestational age (LGA) - Often defined as a weight, length or head circumference that lies above the 90th percentile for that gestational age.

Lumbar puncture - If your baby is unwell a sample of CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) may be collected for testing via a lumbar puncture.  A needle is inserted into the lumbar area of babies spinal column to facilitate removal of the sample.

Long Line - A long line is similar to a PICC line.  A fine plastic tube is inserted into babies veins and continues up the arm or leg until it reaches a much larger vein generally just outside the heart. TPN is often given through a long line when babies are slow to start milk feeds or are unable to receive their full nutritional requirement through milk feeds alone.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - If a head ultrasound reveals a significant brain bleed and or lesions it may be appropriate for baby to have an MRI to gain a better understanding of the extent of their condition.

Meconium - The first stool of an infant.

Meconium aspiration - A serious condition in which a newborn inhales a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid into the lungs around the time of birth.

Medication Pump - Pumps are commonly used to administer medications at a slow gentle rate through cannulas placed in the arms or legs of baby.

Midwife - A person specially trained to assist women in childbirth.

Murmur - Often referring to a heart murmur, an abnormal sound of the heart which is sometimes a sign of abnormal function of the heart.


Nasal canula - Thin plastic tubing used to deliver a gentle supply of supplemental oxygen via the nose.

Nasogastric feeds (NG feeds) - The process of feeding a baby through a nasogastric tube, tube feeding.

Nasogastric Tube (NGT) - A thin flexible tube inserted through the nose to the stomach to facilitate tube feeding and administration of medication.

Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC) - A medical condition primarily seen in premature infants where parts of the bowel die.

Neonatal hypoglycaemia - It is the most common metabolic problem in newborns where the blood glucose level drops to very low levels requiring treatment.

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) - A specialised intensive care unit to care for premature and seriously ill newborns.

Neonatal nurse - A nurse who provides care to newborn infants up to 28 days of age (or corrected age) typically in the NICU/SCN.

Neonatal nurse practitioner - A neonatal nurse with additional training and certification in the care of neonates in the NICU/SCN.

Neonate - A newborn infant specifically before 28 days of age.

Neonatologist - A doctor who specialises in paediatric medicine, specifically concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of babies in the neonatal period, that is the first 28 days of life, or in the case of premature infants until reaching 28 days corrected age.

Nephrologist (Renal) - Kidney function, kidney problems, treatment of kidney problems and renal therapies such as dialysis.

Neurologist - Treats nervous system problems in babies/children. Includes diseases of the brain, spinal cord and nerves, such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy and other nerve; muscle diseases.

Newborn screening test - Blood testing to look for genetic and metabolic disorders of the newborn.

Nutritionist/Dietician - Specialises in nutrition for baby's and children with specific needs.O


Obstructive apnoea - Apnoea caused by pharyngeal instability/collapse, neck flexion or nasal obstruction. Absence of airflow in presence of inspiratory efforts.

Occupational therapist (OT) - Helps improve cognitive, physical and motor skills.

Oedema - A condition characterised by the retention of excess fluids in the cavities and tissues of the body.

OGT (Orogastric Tube) - A thin flexible tube inserted through the mouth to the stomach to facilitate tube feeding and administration of medication.  The tube is often placed in the mouth when baby is very small or receiving breathing assistance from a ventilator, CPAP or hi-flow oxygen.

Oligohydramnios is having too little amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds your baby in the uterus (womb).

Open Cot - Once baby can stabilise their own body temperature they are moved from their isolette to a large white cot when they are still requiring breathing support or a small wire cot when they are breathing for themselves.

Ophthalmologist - Medical specialist who focuses on the visual development and vision care.

Orthopedics - Treats musculoskeletal (bone, joint or muscle) problems in baby's and children still growing. 

Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose & Throat) - Experience in surgical or complex medical illnesses or problems affecting the ear, nose or throat. 

Oxygen - A colourless and odourless gas which is the life supporting component of air.

Oxygen saturation - A relative measure of the amount of oxygen that is dissolved within the blood.  Can be measured using a pulse oximeter or a blood gas.


Paediatrician - Medical doctor who specialises in babies, children and their diseases.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) - A persistent opening between two major blood vessels leading from the heart which would normally close at birth.  This opening causes low oxygenation blood to flow through the heart and back around the body.  It may also cause pulmonary hypertension and other complications.  There are several options to close a PDA including medication, heart catheter and closed heart surgery.

Pathologist - A doctor who specialises in diagnosis of disease and its causes typically through close examination of samples taken from the body.

Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) - This condition occurrs when babies circulatory system fails to transition from antenatal circulation to 'normal' circulation.

Phototherapy lights - Sometimes called Bili lights.  Bili lights are a phototherapy tool used to treat jaundice.  They are very bright blue lights that convert bilirubin so that the body is able to excrete it through urine and faeces. Soft 'sunglasses' or eye shields are placed over babies eyes to prevent any damage to the eyes from the lights.

Physical therapist (PT) - A therapist who uses physical movement and exercises to treat injury or dysfunction of the muscles.

Physiotherapist - Helps with movement, co-ordination, posture and cardiorespiratory system. 

Placenta previa - When part of the placenta, or the entire placenta covers the cervix (opening of the womb). Placenta praevia happens when the fertilised egg implants in the lower part of your womb and is usually picked up on ultrasound between 18 and 20 weeks. If you have placenta praevia, you will probably bleed at some stage of your pregnancy. This usually happens after 28 weeks when the lower part of your womb is thinner and stretched. 

Placental abruption - when part of the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus. This affects the blood and oxygen supply to the fetus.

Pneumonia - Inflammation of the lungs caused by bacteria or viral infection.  Inflammation may affect one or both lungs.

Pneumothorax - The presence of air or gas in the cavity between the lungs and the chest wall which causes the lung to collapse.

Positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP) - Is the pressure in the lungs that is above atmospheric pressure outside the lungs.  May be extrinsic (applied by a ventilator) or intrinsic (caused by incomplete exhalation).

Post-term infant - A baby born after the end of 42 weeks gestation.

Pre-Eclampsia results in high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and may include swelling of the hands, feet, face and other parts of the body. It can develop any time after 20 weeks, although it usually occurs later in pregnancy.  

Premature infant/Prematurity - A baby born before the end of 37 weeks gestation.

Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (PPROM) is defined as spontaneous rupture of the membranes before the onset of labour prior to 37 weeks gestation.  It is commonly referred to as 'waters breaking early'. Your membranes form the sac that surrounds your baby and usually 'breaks' to indicate the onset of labour. When this happens before 37 weeks, it is considered PPROM. 

Probe - Generally a small piece of soft flexible rubber that contains a light source and a light detector.  The light is transmitted through the body part where the probe is located to measure oxygen saturation levels in the blood.

Pulmonologist/Respiratory - Diagnose, treat and manage babies/children with breathing and lung diseases.

Pulse - The vibration/pulsing of the arteries and blood is pumped through them by the heart.

Pulse Oximeter - A small probe wrapped around babies hand, foot or wrist as a non invasive method of measuring babies oxygen saturation.




Radiant warmer - A small bed with an overhead light used in the care of infants.  The heating element adjust automatically to ensure babies temperature is kept at a constant.

Radiologist - A medical specialist who uses radioactive substances and x-rays in the treatment and diagnosis of disease.

Registered Nurse - A fully trained nurse who is registered with the appropriate board certifying their competence.

Respirator - A device that a mixtures of oxygen and carbon dioxide for breathing used especially in artificial respiration/ventilation.

Respiratory/Pulmonologist - Diagnose, treat and manage babies/children with breathing and lung diseases.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) also known as Hyaline Membrane Disease - 

Respiratory Synctial Virus (RSV) - A common virus that causes infection in the airways and lungs.  Can effect children and adults.  May cause bronchiolitis in children under 2 which may lead to hospitalisation and breathing support.

Respite - A short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.

Retina - A part of the eye.  A layer at the back of the eyeball which is receives the image produced by the lens.

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) - A disease of the eye common in babies born prematurely, especially those who have had long term or high levels of oxygen support.

Rheumatologist - Medical specialist who provides care to babies and children with rheumatic diseases such as arthritis.

Room air - Normal air that we breathe in which contains approximately 21% oxygen.

Rooming in - Time shortly before your baby is discharged from NICU/SCN where you stay in the hospital and assume full care for your child under the guidance of NICU/SCN staff.


Sedation - Administration of a sedative drug to produce a state of calm.

Sepsis - Potentially life threatening.  Where a systemic infection causes inflamation throughout the body.  Treatment is usually with antibiotics.

Septic workup - A battery of testing undertaken by medical professionals to determine if the patient has an infection.

Shunt - A hole or small passage which allows the movement of fluid from one part of the body to another.

Skin temperature probe - A small probe attached to baby whilst in an incubator to monitor babies temperature.

Small for gestational age (SGA) - Babies who are born weighing below the 10th percentile for their gestational age.

Social worker - Someone employed to provide social service/assistance.  Typically a social worker will be available to you if your baby is in NICU/SCN.

Speech Therapist - Helps with your child's speech needs.

Special Care Nursery (SCN) - May be referred to as a level 2 NICU.  Provides care for healthier babies who need monitoring or minor treatment but do not require the care of a more specialised level 3 NICU.

Squint or Strabismus - Abnormal alignment of the eyes, preventing the eyes from aiming at the same point in space.  May effect one or both eyes.

Sterile - When an item or environment is free from bacteria or other living microorganisms.

Steroids - Medication given to women in preterm labour and babies who have difficulty breathing to help with lung function.

Stimulation - When a baby sufferes from an episode of bradycardia they may require stimulation, physical arousal to return to a regular rhythm.

Suction - Using a vacuum and tubes to remove something, typically fluids/secretions.

Supine - Referring to the position baby is in, lying face up.

Surfactant - A detergent like substance that reduces the surface tension of the liquid covering the inner parts of the lungs.  It is common for babies born very early to be given surfactant after birth to assist with their lung function.

Surgical team - Medical team who manages your baby if they need surgery.

Syringe - A tube with a plunger and an opening on the opposite end for attachment to a needle which can be used for injecting or withdrawal of fluids.


Tachycardia - Abnormally rapid heart rate, may be transient.

Tachypnoea - Abnormally rapid breathing, may be transient.


Temperature probe - A small probe attached to baby whilst in an incubator to monitor babies temperature.

Term infant - A baby born between 37 and 42 week, gestational age.

Therapeutic hypothermia - Often used as part of the treatment for encephalopathy therapeutic hypothermia is where babies body is cooled to around 33C for a period of 3 days after birth in a effort to reduce brain damage and increase babies long term outcome.

Thermometer - An instrument used for measuring accurate temperature.

Thrombocytopenia - A deficiency of the platelets in the blood which may cause bruising, bleeding and slow clotting.

Total Parental Nutrition (TPN) - A nutrient rich solution administered directly to the blood stream bypassing the usual process of eating and digestion.

Trachea - Commonly called the windpipe, the trachea is a tube that takes air to the lungs.

Transient Tachypnea of Newborn (TTN) - A short lived, usually less than 24 hour, period of rapid breathing after birth.  Baby may require supplemental oxygen during that time or additional breathing support.

Twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) - Affects identical twins (or higher multiple gestations), who share a common monochorionic placenta. Depending on the number, type and direction of the connecting vessels, blood can be transfused disproportionately from one twin (the donor) to the other twin (the recipient).  The transfusion causes the donor twin to have decreased blood volume. This in turn leads to slower than normal growth than its co-twin, and poor urinary output causing little to no amniotic fluid or oligohydramnios (the source of most of the amniotic fluid is urine from the baby). The recipient twin becomes overloaded with blood. This excess blood puts a strain on this baby’s heart to the point that it may develop heart failure, and also causes this baby to have too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) from a greater than normal production of urine.


Ultrasound - Most babies admitted to NICU/SCN will have routine head ultrasounds to detect any bleeds or lesions in the brain.  Ultrasounds may also be carried out on other parts of babies body where there is concern about a particular organ.

Umbilical Catheter, Arterial or Venous (UAC, UVC) - A thin tube that is placed into the artery or vein at the site of the umbilical cord.  These lines are usually placed within the first few hours after babies birth and can stay in place for up to 1 week after birth.  The lines allow the administration of fluids and medications.

Urinary catheter - A tube inserted into the patients bladder via the urethra.

Urinary tract infection (UTI) - An infection in any part of the urinary system, kidneys, bladder and urethra.

Urine bag - A sterile plastic bag used to collect urine from an infant or toddler.

Urine tests - A battery of tests conducted on a sample of urine looking at colour, clarity, odour, gravity, pH, protein, glucose, nitrites, leukocyte esterase, ketones, cells, casts, crystals, bacteria, yeast and squamous cells.

Urologist - A Doctor who specialises in diagnosis and treatment of issues urinary tract.


Vein - Tubes forming part of the circulation system carrying oxygen depleted blood towards the heart.

Ventilation - The physical exchange of air in the lungs.  May refer to mechanical ventilation, when a person is supported by a ventilator.

Ventilator - A machine that can support babies breathing or can take over breathing for baby when they are unable to breathe for themselves.  Baby is connected to the ventilator via an ET Tube.

Ventricle - A hollow part or cavity of an organ, often referring to the heart or brain.

Very low birth weight (VLBW) - Babies born weighing less that 1500g.

Virus - An organism that invades cells and causes illness in the host, often easily transmittable.

Vital signs - Measures of body temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respiratory rate taken by a medical professional.

Vitamin K - Vitamin K is routinely given to babies at or shortly after birth as vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and babies are born with very small amounts of vitamin K which can pose a risk of haemorrhagic disease of the newbown (HCN).


Weaning - This term is is often used to differentiate the transition period from baby taking all milk feeds (breastmilk or formula) to eating solids.

Weighing - Babies in NICU/SCN are weighed periodically to check on their growth.  They may be weighed daily, every other day or weekly depending on the age, weight, health and gestation.


X-ray - Chest x-rays are often taken in NICU to ensure correct placement of an ET tube.  They can also pick up issues with the heart and lungs.  Occasionally further x-raying may be required in different areas of the body, e.g.  if there is concern over a limb or where baby is having trouble feeding or passing stools.

X-ray technician - A person who performs imaging (x-ray) of a person to assist with diagnosis or treatment of medical problems.