Common Terms


ABO incompatibility – A blood condition that may occur when the mother’s blood type is O and the baby’s blood type is either A or B

Adjusted age (or corrected age) – The age that a premature baby would be if he or she had been born on his or her due date

Anemia – A very low number of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues (In preemies, anemia can cause breathing problems, low energy and poor growth.)

Anomaly – Any part of the body that is out of the ordinary

Antepartum – Before birth

Antibiotics – Medicines that stop the growth of bacteria or other germs; used to treat or prevent infection

Anticonvulsant – Medication that stops or reduces seizures

Antireflux medications – Drugs that stop reflux, the backward flow of stomach contents into the infant’s esophagus, “or food pipe” (Reflux can trigger apnea and/or bradycardia.)

APGAR– A means of evaluating, on a scale of 1-10, how a newborn baby adjusts to the environment outside the uterus immediately after delivery

Apnea – A pause in breathing that lasts for more than 20 seconds, or is accompanied by a slow heart rate (bradycardia) or a change in skin color (Apnea is common among preemies who still have immature control of their breathing.)

Asphyxia – The interruption of blood gas exchange or blood flow, causing low oxygen and high carbon dioxide and acidosis to accumulate in the body

Aspiration – 1. Breathing a foreign substance such as meconium, formula or stomach contents into the lungs; may cause aspiration pneumonia; 2. Withdrawal of material from the body by suctioning

Atelectasis – A collapsed condition in a part of the lungs

Audiometric testing – Tests for hearing loss (See BAER brainstem auditory evoked response test.)

BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) – Painless test done to check an infant’s hearing; usually done by an audiologist just before or after discharge from the NICU

Bagging – Pumping air and/or oxygen into the baby’s lungs by compressing a bag attached to a mask that covers the baby’s nose and mouth or attached to the baby’s endotracheal (ET) tube

Bayley Scales – Tests given to infants and toddlers to assess their level of development

Bili Lights (phototherapy) – Special lights used to treat jaundice

Bilirubin – A substance produced when red blood cells break down (When excessive amounts are present in the bloodstream, jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, can occur. When very high levels are present, brain damage can result.)

Blood Gases – A test to determine the oxygen, carbon dioxide and acid content of a sample of blood; used to adjust respiratory care

Bonding – The process by which parents and baby become emotionally attached

BPD (bronchopulmonary dysplasia) – See Chronic Lung Disease (CLD)

Bradycardia (“brady”) – A heart rate that is slower than normal

Brain bleed – Bleeding or hemorrhaging into some part of the brain

Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response Test (BAER) – A method of detecting hearing loss in infants in which the baby’s brain wave responses to various sounds are measured

Bronchodilator – Drugs given to relax or widen the airways to the lungs to improve the flow of air in and out of the lungs

Bronchoscopy – A procedure that involves looking inside a baby’s trachea and bronchi (the large airways of the lungs) with a fiber optic scope, to see whether there is a problem that is making breathing more difficult

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) – See Chronic Lung Disease (CLD)

Caffeine – A stimulant drug used in the treatment of apnea

Cannula – A method of delivering oxygen (A thin flexible tube goes over the baby’s face and head and is connected to an oxygen source. A flow meter regulates the amount of oxygen that is given to the baby through the two prongs that extend from the tube into the baby’s nostrils.)

Cardiology – The branch of medicine dealing with the heart and circulation

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) – A method of reviving a person whose heartbeat and breathing has stopped or slowed abnormally

Cardiorespiratory Monitor – This is sometimes referred to as a heart monitor or C-R monitor. Three adhesive patches with wires connected to them are placed on the baby’s chest, abdomen, arms or legs. The wires travel to a machine that displays the baby’s heart rate, heartbeat patterns, breathing rate and breathing pattern.

Cath toes – Temporary discoloration of a baby’s toes due to decreased blood flow to the toes, sometimes due to an umbilical artery catheter

Catheter – A narrow, flexible tube used to give fluids to the body or to drain fluid from the body

Central line – An intravenous line is inserted into a vein and threaded from there into a larger vein in the body close to the heart. It is used to give medicines or nutritional solutions that would irritate smaller veins. A PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) is a type of central line that is placed in one of the major blood vessels. BROVIAC® is the brand name of a catheter. It is a type of central line that is placed on the jugular (neck) vein.

Central nervous system (CNS) – The brain and spinal cord

Cerebral palsy (CP) – Permanent brain damage that can result in difficulty with coordinated movements (Intelligence may be normal in those with CP.)

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) – Fluid produced in the ventricles of the brain that circulates around the brain and spinal column

Chest tube – A tube surgically inserted through the chest wall and into the chest cavity (between the collapsed lung and the chest wall) to remove air or fluid that has caused a lung to collapse, allowing the lung to expand

Chorioamnionitis – An infection of the amniotic fluid and sac

Chronic lung disease (CLD) – “Chronic” means long term. Chronic lung disease (CLD) is injury or scarring  in a preemie or sick infant’s lungs. It is thought to be caused by the action of oxygen and ventilator use on immature or very ill lungs over time. It is also called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).

CMV – See cytomegalovirus

CNS – See central nervous system

Colostrum – Breastmilk produced in late pregnancy or in the first three to five days after delivery (This milk is usually yellowish in color and is especially rich in nutrients and antibodies.)

Complete blood count (CBC) – A blood test to determine the number and types of cells found in blood (This test checks for cells that may be associated with infection as well as assessing for anemia.)

Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) – A type of birth defect in which a hole in the diaphragm (membrane that separates the chest from the abdomen) allows abdominal organs to come into the chest, causing poor development of the lung on one or both sides

Congestive heart failure (CHF) – Failure of the heart to perform efficiently because of a circulatory imbalance (This condition can occur in patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA.)

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – Pressurized air, sometimes with additional oxygen, that is delivered to the baby’s lungs to keep them from collapsing as the baby inhales and exhales; usually delivered by nasal prongs or face mask

Corrected age – 1. The age of a premature baby that is found by adding his postnatal days to his gestational age at birth (A baby who is 14 days old and was born at 26 weeks would have a corrected age of 28 weeks.) 2. The age a premature baby would be if he had been born on his due date (For example, a baby born three months early is, at the actual age of 7 months, only 4 months old according to his corrected age.)

CP – See cerebral palsy

CPAP – See continuous positive airway pressure

CPR – See cardiopulmonary resuscitation

Cyanosis – Bluish color of the skin caused by poor circulation or low oxygen concentration in the bloodstream

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) – A type of virus that may infect a baby either before or after birth (In some cases, CMV causes severe illness and birth defects.)

Dc – Medical abbreviation for “discontinue” or “stop”

Decadron – The trade name for dexamethasone, a steroid drug

Developmental care – An approach to caring for premature babies that stresses their individual needs and aims to keep them as free from stress as possible

Developmental delay – A delay in reaching certain developmental milestones, relative to most other children of the same age (In preemies, developmental delays may be short term or long term.)

DIC – See disseminated intravascular coagulation

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) – A condition in which the platelets and clotting factors of the blood are consumed because of infection, hypoxia, acidosis or other diseases or injuries (Without enough platelets and clotting factors, there is a tendency to bleed excessively. Transfusion of platelets or exchange transfusions may be given to correct this condition.)

Diuretic – A medication that increases the amount of water that passes out of the body through the urine

Down syndrome – A chromosomal abnormality, sometimes referred to as mongolism, characterized by physical malformations and varying degrees of mental retardation; often caused by an extra number 21 chromosome

Dx – The medical abbreviation for “diagnosis

Echocardiogram – An ultrasonographic method of recording a picture of the heart as it is produced by the echo of sound waves (This can be used to evaluate both the structure and function of the heart.)

ECMO (Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation) – A type of life support that uses a machine to add oxygen to the blood to help the baby’s heart and/or lungs

Edema – Fluid retention in the body tissues that causes puffiness or swelling

EEG (electroencephalogram) – A tracing of the electrical impulses of the brain

EKG (electrocardiogram) – A tracing of the heart’s electrical activity

Electrodes – Small patches taped to the baby’s chest, arms or legs connected to a monitor to measure the heart and breathing rates

Electroencephalogram (EEG) – A tracing of the electrical impulses of the brain

Electrolytes – Chemicals that, when dissolved in water, can conduct an electrical current (The main electrolytes in the human body are sodium, Na, and potassium, K. They play important roles in the proper functioning of the cells.)

Endotracheal tube (ET Tube) – A plastic tube inserted into the baby’s trachea (windpipe) to help the baby breathe (You will not hear the baby cry while this tube is in place.)

Esophagus – The tube extending from the mouth to the stomach that carries food to the stomach

Exchange transfusion – A type of blood transfusion in which the infant’s blood is removed in small amounts and simultaneously replaced with the same amounts of donor blood, often to dilute harmful concentrations of bilirubin

Extubation – The removal of the endotracheal tube

Fine motor skills – Skills involving the coordination of the small muscles such as those in the hand

Fontanel – The “soft spot” on the top of the baby’s head between the un-joined sections of the skull

Fraternal twins – Twins formed when two eggs are simultaneously released and fertilized

Full-term (FT) – An infant born between the 38th and 42nd weeks of gestation

GA – See gestational age

Gastrostomy – A surgically created opening in the abdominal wall to provide nutrition directly to the stomach when the esophagus is blocked or injured, or to provide drainage after abdominal surgery

Gastroesophageal reflux – Often referred to as “GE reflux,” or just “reflux,” this is a condition in which food in the stomach comes back up into the esophagus, and sometimes all the way out of the mouth. It is similar to heartburn in adults.

Gavage feeding – A method of feeding breast milk or formula through a small tube passed through the baby’s mouth or nose into the stomach

Genetic abnormality – A disorder arising from abnormalities in the chromosomes of each cell that may or may not be hereditary or passed on in a family (Chromosomes are made up of “genes” which contain basic information for the growth and development of the fetus or person.)

Genetic counseling – Advice and information provided by trained professional counselors on the detection and risk of occurrence of genetic disorders

Gestation – The length of time between the first day of the mother’s last menstrual period before conception and the delivery of the baby

Gestational age – The length of time from conception to birth (A full-term infant has a gestational age of 38-42 weeks.)

Gram – A unit of measuring weight; 30 grams = 1 ounce. (Each baby is weighed daily and the weight is measured in grams.)

Grunting – A noise made by the baby indicating respiratory distress

Head ultrasound – A painless test that uses sound waves to show the structures in the brain; used to detect bleeding into the brain or other suspected problems

Heel stick – A method of obtaining blood samples by pricking the baby’s heel

Hematocrit (Crit) – A test done to measure the concentration of red blood cells in the blood to check for anemia

Hemoglobin (hgb, hb) – A substance in red blood cells that contains iron and carries oxygen

Hernia – A weakness in the abdominal wall that causes a portion of the intestines to protrude into the umbilical or inguinal area (This may also occur with a problem of the diaphragm that causes the bowel to enter the chest cavity, resulting in underdevelopment of the lung.)

Herpes – A virus that produces sores on the mouth or genitals (In infants, it can cause a severe body-wide infection, often leading to death or neurological damage.)

High-risk (at-risk) – Refers to persons or situations needing special intervention to prevent illness, damage or death, or to keep illness or damage from worsening; for example, high-risk newborns, high-risk pregnancies

HMD – See hyaline membrane disease

Hyaline membrane disease (HMD) – Also known as respiratory distress syndrome, or RDS (This is respiratory distress that affects premature babies. It is caused by a lack of surfactant, the substance that keeps the lung air sacs, or alveoli, from collapsing.)

Hydrocephalus – An abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles (fluid-filled spaces) of the brain (In preemies, hydrocephalus most often occurs after a severe intraventricular hemorrhage or IVH.)

Hyperbilirubinemia – Excess bilirubin in the blood; a condition common in newborns

Hypercalcemia – An excess amount of calcium in the blood

Hypercapnia (hypercarbia) – An excess of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream

Hyperglycemia – Abnormally high sugar levels in the blood

Hyperkalemia – Excess amounts of potassium in the blood

Hypernatremia – Excessive amounts of sodium in the blood

Hypertension – High blood pressure

Hyperthermia – Abnormally high body temperature

Hyperventilation – Abnormally rapid breathing

Hypocalcemia – Abnormally low levels of calcium in the blood

Hypoglycemia – A condition that occurs when not enough glucose (sugar) is in the baby’s blood to use as a fuel for energy

Hypokalemia – Too little potassium in the blood

Hyponatremia – Too little sodium in the blood

Hypotension – Abnormally low blood pressure

Hypothermia – Abnormally low body temperature; a frequent problem with low-birth weight premature babies

Hypotonia – Deficient muscle tone

Hypovolemia – An abnormally low volume of blood in the body

Hypoxia – A lack of sufficient oxygen

I and O – Abbreviation for “input and output” (It refers to the amount of fluids given by oral feedings or by IV, and the amount of fluid excreted in the urine or stools, as well as blood removed for testing, over a given period of time.)

Iatrogenic – An injury or disease caused by medical treatment

ICH – See intracranial hemorrhage

Identical twins – Twins that result from the accidental division of a single fertilized egg

IDM – Abbreviation for “infant of a diabetic mother”

IL – See intralipid

Intermittent mandatory ventilation (IMV) – A tube is threaded through the baby’s nose or mouth, down the back of the throat, and into the trachea (windpipe). IMV is most often used along with the baby’s own breathing rate in order to get enough oxygen into the child’s body.

Indomethacin – An aspirin-like drug sometimes used to close the patent ductus arteriosus

Infiltrate – 1. The slipping of an IV needle out of the vein; IV fluid can build up in surrounding tissues. 2. Fluid or other substances in the tiny air sacs of the lungs

Infusion pump – A pump that is attached to an IV line to give fluids to the baby in tiny, carefully measured amounts

Intracranial hemorrhage (ICH) – Bleeding in or around the brain

Intralipid – A white IV solution that contains a high amount of fat (lipid)

Intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) – Refers to a baby who is smaller by weight than normal for his or her gestational age at birth (This can be caused by various conditions of the mother or baby.)

Intravenous Infusion (IV) – This is the needle or small tube that is placed into one of the veins of the infant. It is attached by tubing to a bag of fluid. It is used to give fluids, medicines and nutrients to the baby. Common sites for IVs are the hands, feet, arms, legs and scalp.

Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) – Bleeding within the ventricles (fluid-filled spaces) of the brain

Intubation – Inserting a tube into the trachea (windpipe) to allow air to reach the lungs to help with breathing

In utero – Within the womb

Isolette (Incubator) – A transparent plastic box that has a heating system to keep premature babies warm (Isolettes used to be called incubators.)

IUGR – See intrauterine growth retardation

IV – Intravenous, or in the vein

IVH (intraventricular hemorrhage) – Bleeding in an inner part of the brain near the ventricles (This is where premature babies have very fragile blood vessels that can easily rupture.)

Jaundice –A yellowish color of the skin and whites of the eyes (It is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the body.)

Kangaroo care – A way to hold your baby skin to skin, against your bare chest, inside your shirt, or covered by a blanket, like a baby kangaroo in his mother’s pouch

Lactation – Production of milk by the breasts

Lactation consultant – A person who is trained to help mothers with breast pumping or breastfeeding

Lanugo – Fine hair that covers the body of a fetus and some premature babies

Large for gestational age (LGA) – Newborn infant who is above the 90th percentile in weight at birth for his gestational age

Large motor skills – Skills, such as crawling and walking, that involve the coordination of large muscle groups

Laryngoscope – A tool with a long, lighted, hollow metal tube and handle; used when a tube is inserted to see the vocal cords and guide the tube between them

Lasix® – Brand name for a type of diuretic, a medicine that helps the body get rid of excess water

LBW – See low-birth weight infant.

Lead wires – Wires that lead from the electrodes to a monitor

Let-down reflex – Release of milk into the milk ducts and down to the nipple (Mothers sometimes have a tingling feeling when this happens.)

LGA – See large for gestational age

Low birth weight infant (LBW) – Baby who weighs less than 5½ pounds (2500 gm) at birth (The baby can be premature or full term.)

Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) – A test that uses a short, narrow needle inserted between two lumbar vertebrae into the area where there is spinal fluid (The spinal fluid is withdrawn for analysis.)

Meconium aspiration – Breathing in of amniotic fluid that contains the baby’s stool passed before or during delivery

Meningocele – A birth defect in which the tissue lining the brain and spinal cord (meninges) pushes through an opening in the skull or spinal column

Moro reflex – One of the many reflexes that babies have (When startled by a sudden noise or fear of falling, babies throw out their arms and arch their backs.)

Mucus – A sticky secretion produced by membranes that line the nose, throat and lungs

Murmur (heart murmur) – An extra heart sound (It is heard when listening to the baby’s heart with a stethoscope. This may be normal or abnormal.)

Nasal cannula – A set of plastic prongs and tubing that can give extra oxygen into a baby’s nose.

Nasal CPAP – This stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It is given to an infant through special prongs in the nose or with a small mask that fits over the nose.

Naso-gastric tube (NG tube) – A small plastic tube inserted through the nose or mouth and into the stomach (This tube is used for feedings when an infant is unable to breastfeed or drink from a bottle.)

Nebulizer – A device that adds water vapor to oxygen or air so that moist air can be given to the baby

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) – An intestinal disease, most common in young preemies (Parts of the bowel are damaged or destroyed because of poor blood flow, inflammation or infection.)

Neonatal period – The first 30 days of life

Neonate – A baby during the first month of life

Newborn intensive care unit (NICU NBISU, NBIC, ICN) – A section of a hospital with trained staff andspecial equipment to care for critically ill newborns (See NICU.)

NG Tube – See nasogastric tube

NICU – Short for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (A NICU is a hospital ward where preemies that need complex medical care are taken care of. Other critically ill or medically unstable newborns may also receive care in the NICU.)

Nippling – Sucking on a bottle filled with formula or breastmilk

NPO – This means “nothing by mouth.” If an infant is NPO, he or she is not getting any medicines or nutrients by mouth.

Obstructive apnea – A pause in breathing that occurs because a baby’s airway is blocked and little air can get through (It can happen even when a baby is moving his chest to breathe.)

Occupational/Physical Therapist (OT/PT) – A person who tests your baby’s neurological (brain) development (The therapist plans exercises to help development, improve muscle control, and solve feeding problems.)

OG (oral-gastric) tube – A soft tube that goes through a baby’s mouth down into his stomach (It can be used for feeding or to empty the stomach of gas.)

Oligohydramnios – A condition of too little amniotic fluid

Omphalocele – A condition in which the intestines push through an opening in the abdominal wall

Ophthalmologist – A doctor who treats diseases of the eye

Oscillating ventilator – Also called a high-frequency ventilator, it works differently than a regular ventilator. An oscillating ventilator keeps a baby’s lungs filled with air all the time by giving tiny amounts of air at very rapid rates.

Ostopenia – A condition like rickets, in which minerals are lost from the bones (The bones become weak, and break easily. This condition is sometimes seen in premature babies who receive tube feedings for long periods.)

OT – Abbreviation for occupational therapist

Oximeter – A monitor placed on the baby’s hand or foot. It is used to measure the baby’s oxygen level.

Oxygen (O2) – The gas that makes up 21% of the atmosphere, it is needed to support life (The amount of oxygen given to an infant can be controlled from 21% to 100%.)

Oxygen hood (Oxyhood) – A small plastic hood placed over the baby’s head, giving the infant a measured amount of oxygen and warm mist

Parenteral nutrition (PN) – Nutrition that is given by IV, rather than through the stomach and the intestines

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) – A blood vessel in the fetus that allows oxygen-rich blood from the placenta to bypass the left side of the heart and lungs (Before birth, blood flows through this blood vessel to the rest of the body. It usually closes in the first two weeks of life in full-term infants. In the preterm infant, it may stay open and need to be closed with surgery.)

PCO2 (PaCO2) – A measure of the carbon dioxide content of the blood

PDA – See patent ductus arteriosus

Peripheral IVs – IV lines that go into “peripheral” veins (These veins are the small blood vessels near the skin’s surface, usually in the baby’s arms, legs or scalp.)

Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) – Small cysts found in the brain (If they do not go away, it may result in cerebral palsy. The cause is not known. It may be due to periods of low blood flow to the brain of the fetus or an infection the mother had while pregnant.)

Persistent fetal circulation (PFC) – After birth, the baby’s blood continues to circulate the way it did before. In the fetus, blood bypasses the lungs and circulates through an open blood vessel (ductus arteriosus). See patent ductus arteriosus.

Petechiae – A pinpoint rash caused by tiny hemorrhages (bleeding) from the blood vessels close to the surface of the skin (Petechiae usually mean clotting problems that result from infection or injury.)

Phototherapy – A treatment for jaundice (Blue or green fluorescent lights are placed over the baby’s bed to help break down bilirubin into a form that can be removed in the kidneys.)

Physical therapist (PT) – A therapist who treats problems of coordination and of the large motor skills

PICC catheter – See central line

PIE (pulmonary interstitial emphysema) – A complication in which there are many tiny tears in the air sacs or small airways of a baby’s lung, causing air to leak out of them

PIV – Peripheral intravenous access is in the vein in a hand, foot, arm, leg or scalp

Platelets – Parts of the blood that are needed for proper clotting (They are also called thrombocytes.)

Pneumothorax (“collapsed lung”) – A rupture in the lung (A tear in the air sac of a baby’s lung causes air to collect in the chest. Air leaks out of the lung into the space between the lung and the chest wall. It can put pressure on the other lung and the heart. This causes the blood oxygen level to go down and the blood pressure to fall.)

PO2 (PaO2) – A measure of the oxygen content of the blood

Polycythemia – A very high number of red blood cells (This condition causes “sluggish” circulation. In babies, it can cause breathing problems, low blood sugar and jaundice.)

Prognosis – A prediction of the course and end of a disease

Projectile vomiting – Extremely forceful ejection of the stomach contents

Prostaglandins – Substances in the body that affect the blood flow to a variety of organs (Different kinds of prostaglandins may increase or lessen the blood flow to a particular organ.)

Pseudomonas – A type of bacteria

PT – See physical therapist

Pulmonary hypertension – An inability of the blood vessels of the lungs to relax and open up normally after birth (Poor circulation through the lungs and poor oxygen levels in the blood result. Respiratory therapy andinhaled or IV drugs may be used to relax the lungs’ tight vessels to help treat this condition.)

Pulmonary insufficiency of the premature (PIP) – A type of respiratory distress that affects the youngest premature infants (It is caused as much by an immaturity of the lung tissue as by a lack of surfactant. The treatment is the same as for RDS.)

Pulmonary interstitial emphysema (PIE) – A complication in which there are many tiny tears in the air sacs or small airways of a baby’s lung, causing air to leak out of them

Pulse oximeter – A monitoring device used to show the level of oxygen in a baby’s blood (This device is taped to the skin, usually a finger or foot, for oxygen level readings.)

PVL (periventricular leukomalacia) – Cysts in the white matter of the brain near the ventricles (The cysts are a sign that these areas have been permanently damaged.)

Radiant Warmer – An open bed with a heat source that allows immediate access to newborn and sick preemies while maintaining a warm air temperature

RDS (respiratory distress syndrome) – Also called hyaline membrane disease, it is the result of a preemie having immature lungs. A baby with RDS is not able to breathe well on his own as small air sacs (alveoli) tend to collapse (atelectasis).

Red blood cells (RBC) – RBCs are a part of the body’s blood that contains hemoglobin and carries oxygen to all the cells and tissues of the body.

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) – A condition that affects the lungs of preterm infants, caused by lack of surfactant; also called hyaline membrane disease

Retina – The lining of the back of the eye that receives visual images

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) – A disease affecting the retina of a preterm baby’s eye (ROP can lead to serious eye complications and even blindness.)

Retrolental fibroplasia (RLF) – An eye disease of premature babies; see retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

Rh factor – A type of protein that may or may not be present on a person’s red blood cells

ROP – Abbreviation for retinopathy of prematurity

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) – A common virus that gives most people a cold, but can be more serious in premature babies, causing infections such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis

Rubella – A virus that causes German measles and severe intrauterine infections

Secretions – Spit, snot, mucous, drool

Seizure – Abnormal electrical activity of the brain that may be associated with involuntary muscle movements

Sepsis – An infection of the blood or other tissue

SGA – See small for gestational age

Shunt – 1. An artificially created passage between two areas of the body, as in a ventriculo–peritoneal shunt for hydrocephalus (This is a tube that drains fluid from the ventricles of the brain into the abdominal cavity.) 2. An abnormal connection between two areas of the body, such as a right-to-left or left-to-right shunt through the ductus arteriosus

Small for gestational age (SGA) – A newborn is considered small-for-gestational age if her birth weight is below the 10th percentile on the standard growth curve for his or her age.

Steroid – A drug given to reduce inflammation, especially in the throat, trachea and lungs

Subarachnoid hemorrhage – Bleeding in the area around the outside of the brain (subarachnoid space)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)  – One type of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID), SIDS is the sudden death of an infant younger than 1 year of age that cannot be explained even after a full investigation that includes a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history.

Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) – The death of an infant younger than 1 year of age that occurs suddenly and unexpectedly. After a full investigation, these deaths may be diagnosed as suffocation, entrapment, infection, ingestion, metabolic diseases, cardiac arrhythmias, trauma, or SIDS.

Surfactant – A substance produced by the lung that serves as a coating in the air sacs and keeps the tiny air sacs open between breaths (Surfactant is often lacking in preterm babies, and this can lead to respiratory distress syndrome or lung immaturity in the premature baby. Today there are man–made surfactants that can dramatically improve a preemie’s respiratory status.)

Tachycardia – An abnormally fast heart rate; in an infant, above 180 beats per minute

Tachypnea – A respiratory rate above what is considered normal for infants (above 60 breaths per minute)

Term infant – An infant born between 38 and 42 weeks of gestation

Thrombocytes – See platelets

Thrombocytopenia – Abnormal decrease in the number of blood platelets

Thrush – A fungus infection of the mouth characterized by white patches on a red inflamed surface

TORCH – A group of maternal infections that can cause serious effects on the fetus: toxyplasmosis, other viruses, rubella, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus

Total parenteral nutrition (TPN; hyperalimentation) – A type of nutrition that is given through intravenous infusion (TPN provides all of the essential nutrients needed.)

TPN – See total parenteral nutrition

TPR – Medical abbreviation for temperature, pulse, respiration

Tracheostomy (“Trach”) – A surgical opening in the trachea, below the larynx (voice box), made to allow air to enter the lungs when the throat becomes obstructed

Transfusion – A treatment for anemia in which red blood cells are added directly to the baby’s total circulating blood supply through an IV or a catheter

TTN (Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn) – A condition resulting in an excess of lung fluid at the time of delivery, causing an elevated respiratory rate until the fluid is absorbed

Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) – A condition of the placenta that can occur in identical twin pregnancies (TTTS results in blood that passes from one twin baby to the other through connecting blood vessels within the shared placenta.)

UAC/UVC (Umbilical Artery Catheter/Umbilical Vein Catheter) – A soft plastic tube inserted into an artery or vein in the baby’s navel (It is used to give IV fluids or medications, to monitor blood pressure, and to obtain blood for tests.)

UAL – Umbilical artery line; see UAC/UVC

Ultrasound (sonogram) – An imaging technique that uses echoes of high frequency sound waves to produce a picture of body tissues

Umbilical catheter – See UAC/UVC

Upper respiratory infections (URI) – A cold; an infection that affects any part of the respiratory tract above the larynx (voice box)

UTI – Urinary tract infection; usually refers to infections of the bladder

Ventilator – A machine, also called a respirator, that sends warmed, moist air to a baby’s lungs (The sickest babies receive mechanical ventilation, meaning that the ventilator “breathes” for them while their lungs grow and recover. The air goes to the baby’s lungs through an endotracheal tube, a small plastic tube that is passed through a baby’s nose or mouth down into the windpipe. The amount of oxygen, air pressure and number of breaths per minute can be regulated to meet each baby’s needs. Babies with serious breathing problems may be treated with a form of high-frequency ventilation that delivers small amounts of air at a rapid rate.)

Ventricle – 1. A small chamber, as in the ventricles of the heart; 2. Small chambers in the center of the brain where cerebrospinal fluid is made

VP (ventriculo-peritoneal) shunt – A long-term treatment for hydrocephalus (A VP shunt is a long, plastic tube that is inserted surgically. The shunt carries excess fluid from the ventricles in the brain where it builds up, down to the abdomen, or peritoneum, where it can be absorbed by the body.)


White blood cells (WBCs) – WBCs are the part of the body that fights against infection; see leukocyte

Yeast (candida albicans, monilia, thrush) – A tiny fungus that can cause infection (Yeast infections are common after antibiotic therapy.)