Understanding NICU terms & procedures

Sometimes it can seem like the doctors and nurses in the NICU are speaking a different language when they explain your baby’s status or treatment. And in a way, they are. Many of these medical conditions, tests, procedures, and monitoring methods are specific to premature babies, so you won’t hear most of them outside of the NICU.

In the beginning, all of the acronyms and short-hand phrases can feel incredibly overwhelming, and that’s normal. But these words and phrases will become second nature to you pretty quickly, and you’ll find yourself having to explain to friends and family what you’re talking about!

For now, we’ve compiled a few resources that give easy-to-search-and-understand definitions of some of the most commonly used NICU words and others that help explain some of the procedures you might hear about, too. Check with your hospital to see if they have an online or printed guide for parents of preemies, too, as some procedures and conditions have more than one way to refer to them (and each NICU staff will gravitate toward a preference). 

ABCs of NICU care

This alphabetical guide includes some of the words you’ll hear frequently in the NICU, with brief definitions for each.

Pocket guide

The Connect2NICU app features a dictionary of terms used in the NICU, descriptions of who you will meet while there, and with descriptions of equipment that may be used on your child.

Procedures in plain terms

This helpful resource explains the “hows” and “whys” of some of the procedures NICU doctors and nurses may perform to help your baby breathe, eat, and more.

When speaking with your baby’s care team, if you hear a term you’re not familiar with, please ask the NICU staff member to pause and explain it to you – chances are you’ll hear it again, and everyone there wants you to feel comfortable and informed about your baby’s care.


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