The NICU has many machines and other equipment to care for sick babies. These machines may seem less strange and complex when you understand how they can help your baby. This section explains a lot of the equipment you may see in the NICU.
apnea monitor (AP-nee-uh MON-uh-tur) — A machine that detects when a baby stops breathing for a few seconds. An alarm goes off to let NICU staff know the baby has stopped breathing.
arterial line (ar-TEER-ee-uhl line) — A thin tube that is put into an artery (a blood vessel that carries oxygen to all parts of the body) to check a baby’s blood pressure (the force of blood that pushes against the walls of the arteries) and measure blood gases (levels of acid, oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood).
bililights (BIL-ee-lites) — Bright lights are placed over a baby’s incubator (a clear plastic bed where a baby is put to keep warm) to treat jaundice. A baby has jaundice when his liver isn’t fully developed or isn’t working. This can cause his eyes and skin to look yellow. Babies can have this treatment (called phototherapy) for 3 to 7 days.
blood pressure monitor — A machine connected to a small blood pressure cuff wrapped around a baby’s arm or leg. The cuff takes the baby’s blood pressure (the force of blood that pushes against the walls of the arteries) at regular times and displays it on a screen.
cardiopulmonary monitor (kar-dee-oh-PUHL-muh-nair-ee MON-uh-tur) — A machine that tracks a baby’s heart and breathing rates. It’s connected to the baby by small sticky pads (called leads) placed on her chest. Information from the monitor is shown on a screen and can be printed out. If a baby’s heart or breathing rate becomes too fast or too slow, an alarm sounds.
central line — A small plastic tube put into a large blood vessel. A baby gets medicine and fluids through this tube, and providers can draw blood out through the tube. One kind of central line that’s used a lot in the NICU is called a peripherally inserted central catheter (also called a PICC line).
continuous positive airway pressure (kuhn-TIN-yoo-uhss POZ-uh-tiv AIR-way PRESH-ur) — Also called CPAP. A machine that sends air and oxygen to a baby’s lungs through small tubes in his nose or down his windpipe.
cooling blanket or cap — A blanket or cap used to lower a baby’s body temperature. They may help reduce or prevent problems that can happen when a baby’s brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. The blanket or cap can cool a baby’s brain and body to about 92 F (33.5 C). A baby usually gets a cooling blanket or cap within about 6 hours of birth and can keep using it for up to 3 days. After that, the baby is slowly warmed to a normal body temperature of 98.6 F (37 C).
endotracheal tube (en-doh-TREY-kee-uhl toob) — A small plastic tube put into a baby’s nose or mouth down to the trachea (also called windpipe, part of the airway system) that sends air and oxygen to the lungs. The tube is attached to a machine, called a mechanical ventilator, to help the baby breathe.
extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ex-truh-kor-POR-ee-uhl MEM-brayn oksuh-jen-AY-shuhn) — Also called ECMO. A machine that takes blood from a baby’s body, puts oxygen into the blood and sends the blood back into the body. It’s like a heart-lung bypass machine used in open heart surgery, but ECMO can be used for a longer time.
gastrostomy tube (gass-TRAWSS-tuh-mee toob) — Also called a G-tube or gastric feeding tube. A tube that goes into a baby’s stomach (an organ that aids in digestion) for feeding. Liquids are put into the tube to feed the baby. This tube is used for babies who can’t take food by mouth and need long-term help with feeding.
high-frequency ventilator (hye FREE-kwuhn-see VEN-tuh-lay-tur) — A machine that breathes for a baby at a faster rate than other ventilators. Oscillating and jet ventilators are examples of high-frequency ventilators.
incubator (IN-kyoo-bay-tur) — A clear plastic bed that helps keep a baby warm. Families can touch their baby through ports (holes) in the side of the incubator. NICU staff may also call this a Giraffe® or Isolette®.
intravenous line (in-truh-VEE-nuhs line) — Also called IV. A tube inserted with a needle into a baby’s vein (a blood vessel that brings blood back to the heart). Liquids, including fluids, medicine and blood can go through an IV.
mechanical ventilator (muh-KAN-uh-kuhl VEN-tuh-lay-tur) — A machine that helps a baby breathe or breathes for him when he is not breathing on his own. It works by pushing warm air and oxygen into the lungs through a breathing tube called an endotracheal tube. The provider sets the amount of oxygen, air pressure and number of breaths per minute to meet the baby’s needs.
nasal cannula (NAY-zuhl KAN-yoo-luh) — Small plastic tubes put into a baby’s nose. Air and oxygen go through the tubes into the baby’s lungs.
nasogastric tube (nay-zoh-GASS-trik toob) — Also called NG tube. A feeding tube that goes in a baby’s nose, down the esophagus (part of the body that carries food from the throat to the stomach) and into the stomach (an organ that aids in digestion). The baby gets breast milk, formula and medicines through the tube. This is sometimes called gavage feeding. Usually babies use this kind of tube for less than a month, but some babies may need it longer.
orogastric tube (or-oh-GASS-trik toob) — Also called OG tube. A feeding tube that goes in a baby’s mouth, down the esophagus (part of the body that carries food from the throat to the stomach) and into the stomach (an organ that aids in digestion). The baby gets breast milk, formula and medicines through the tube. This is sometimes called gavage feeding. Usually babies use this kind of tube for less than a month, but some babies may need it longer.
oxygen hood (OK-suh-juhn hood) — A clear plastic box that fits over a baby’s head and gives him oxygen. It’s used with babies who can breathe on their own but still need some extra oxygen.
pulse oximeter (puhlss ok-SYM-i-tur) — Also called a pulse ox. A small device wrapped around a baby’s foot or hand that measures the oxygen in the baby’s blood. It does not cause the baby any pain. It helps doctors and nurses know if the baby needs more or less oxygen.
radiant warmer (RAY-dee-uhnt WARM-ur) — An open bed with overhead heating to warm a baby. A warmer may be used instead of an incubator (a clear plastic bed where a baby is put to keep warm) if the baby needs to be handled a lot.
tracheostomy tube (tray-kee-AHS-toh-mee toob) — A curved plastic tube put into a baby’s trachea (also called a windpipe) through a hole in the baby’s neck. The trachea is part of the airway system that takes air to the lungs, where it is delivered to the bloodstream. The baby breathes through this tube instead of his nose and mouth. This tube doesn’t go into the baby’s lungs.
umbilical catheter (uhm-BIL-uh-kuhl KATH-uh-tur) — A thin tube that goes into a baby’s umbilical cord and into the belly button. A provider can give fluids, blood, medicine and nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, to the baby through the tube. The tube also is used to take blood for tests. A small device can be attached to the tube that lets doctors check the baby’s blood pressure (the force of blood that pushes against the walls of the arteries).
urinary catheter (YOOR-uh-nar-ee KATH-uh-tur) — A thin tube that goes through the opening where urine (a liquid the body makes by filtering waste and extra water through the kidneys) passes out of the body and into a baby’s bladder. It’s used to collect urine for testing.
March of Dimes fights for the health of all moms and babies. We're advocating for policies to protect them. We're working to radically improve the health care they receive. We're pioneering research to find solutions. We're empowering families with the knowledge and tools to have healthier pregnancies. By uniting communities, we're building a brighter future for us all.
Privacy, Terms, and Notices
© Privacy, terms and notices