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Learning About Equipment in the NICU

What equipment is used in the NICU?

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is the part of the hospital where premature or sick newborns get care.

It can be scary to see your baby in a room filled with unfamiliar machines. Some of them are noisy. But all of them help the doctor and the NICU staff take good care of your baby.

Some equipment protects and keeps your baby comfortable.

  • The incubator, or isolette, is a special crib that keeps your baby warm. It also serves as a barrier to drafts and germs.

Other devices help your baby breathe.

  • A ventilator is a machine that breathes for your baby while the lungs are growing or healing. It sends oxygen or air into the lungs through a thin tube. The tube is placed in the windpipe through the nose or mouth.
  • A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine may be used when a ventilator isn't needed. It gently pushes oxygen or air into the lungs through a mask over the baby's nose or mouth. The baby can breathe on their own with this extra help.
  • A nasal cannula is a thin tube with two prongs that are placed in the nostrils when the baby just needs more oxygen. The oxygen goes through the openings in the prongs and into the baby's nostrils. Oxygen may also be given through a clear plastic hood that rests over the baby's head.

Doctors use special tools to give your baby medicine, fluids, and food.

  • A medicine pump is a machine that delivers exactly the right amounts of medicines at the right times through an I.V. site, central line, or umbilical venous catheter.
  • An intravenous (I.V.) site gives access to a vein. It may be placed in the back of the hand, foot, arm, leg, or scalp. One end of a tube is attached to the site. The other end may be attached to a medicine pump. It can also be used to take samples of blood for testing.
  • A central vascular access device (CVAD), or central line, is a long, thin tube that can be placed in the neck, chest, or arm. It is threaded through a vein until it reaches a larger vein near the heart. It can stay in place longer than an I.V. and can deliver fluids or medicines quickly if needed.
  • An umbilical venous catheter is a thin, flexible tube. It's inserted into a blood vessel in the belly button (umbilicus). The tube may be attached to a medicine pump.

Other devices help the NICU staff keep track of your baby's condition.

  • An inflatable cuff on the arm or leg takes the baby's blood pressure. Then it sends that data to the blood pressure monitor.
  • A temperature probe attached to the baby's skin keeps track of your baby's temperature. It can be used to adjust the heat in the isolette or an overhead heater.
  • The heart monitor has a sensor attached to the chest. It tracks breathing and heart rate.
  • A pulse oximeter clips on to the baby's hand or foot. It measures how much oxygen is in the blood.

You don't have to remember what each piece of equipment does. The NICU staff will answer your questions and tell you how these tools are helping your baby.

It's hard to be apart from your baby, especially when you worry about your baby's condition. Know that the hospital staff is well prepared to care for babies with this condition. They will do everything they can to help. If you need it, ask for support from friends and family. You can also ask the hospital staff about counselling and support.

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