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In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), there are many machines and other types of equipment used to care for sick babies with many different problems. These machines seem less intimidating when you understand how they can help your baby.
This article introduces you to some of the equipment you'll see. Your baby may also be treated with other specialized machines during her NICU stay.
The bright blue fluorescent lights placed over a baby's incubator are used to treat jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Babies with jaundice usually receive this phototherapy treatment for three to seven days.
Blood pressure monitor
A blood pressure monitor is a machine connected to a small blood pressure cuff wrapped around your baby's arm or leg. The cuff automatically takes your baby's blood pressure at regular times and displays the numbers on a screen.
This machine tracks your baby's heart and breathing rates. It's attached to your baby with small adhesive monitoring pads placed on her chest. The monitor displays information on the screen, which can be printed on paper. An alarm will sound if your baby's heart or breathing rate becomes too fast or too slow.
This is a small plastic tube inserted into a large blood vessel. Doctors can draw blood through the central line or use it to give your baby medicine or fluids.
A PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line is a type of central line placed in one of the major blood vessels.
Continuous positive airway pressure (C-PAP)
Air is delivered to a baby's lungs either through small tubes in the baby's nose or through a tube inserted into her windpipe. The tubes are attached to a ventilator (respirator), which helps your baby breathe but does not breathe for her.
This small plastic tube is inserted through a baby's nose or mouth down into the trachea (windpipe). The tube is attached to a ventilator (respirator), which can either help a baby breathe (as in C-PAP) or breathe for her.
Babies are placed in this clear plastic box, which keeps them warm and protects them from germs and noise.
Intravenous (IV) line
Most premature and sick babies cannot be fed immediately, so they must receive nutrients and fluids through a vein (intravenously).
To put in an IV, a doctor or nurse inserts a very small needle or tube into a tiny vein in the baby's hand, foot, arm, leg, or scalp. The needle is taped in place and attached to a thin plastic tube (IV line).
The tube goes to an IV pump connected to a pole next to your baby's bed. Your baby also can receive medications and blood through the IV line.
Nasal cannula or nasal prongs
These small plastic tubes fit into your baby's nostrils and deliver oxygen. They often are used with a treatment called continuous positive airway pressure (C-PAP), which uses a ventilator to deliver pressurized air to a baby's lungs.
This is a clear plastic box that fits over the baby's head and supplies her with oxygen. This is used for babies who can breathe on their own but still need some extra oxygen.
A pulse oximeter is a small U-shaped device that's wrapped around your baby's foot or hand and secured with a stretchy bandage. It uses a light sensor to measure the level of oxygen in your baby's blood. This sensor doesn't hurt your baby at all. It helps doctors and nurses determine whether your baby needs more or less oxygen, while reducing the need for painful blood tests.
This open bed has an overhead heating source that provides heat to your baby. A warmer may be used instead of an incubator if your baby needs to be handled frequently.
Your baby's umbilical cord has two arteries and one vein, which end in her belly button. A thin tube (catheter) can be inserted into one of these vessels and threaded to the aorta, the largest artery supplying oxygen to the body.
Through this catheter, doctors and nurses can painlessly draw blood, so they don't have to repeatedly stick the baby with needles. They can give her fluids, blood, nutrients, and medications through this tube. A small device can be attached to the catheter to continuously monitor a baby's blood pressure.
A ventilator (also called a respirator) is a mechanical breathing machine that delivers warmed and humidified air to a baby's lungs. The sickest babies receive mechanical ventilation, meaning that the ventilator temporarily breathes for them while their lungs recover.
The air is delivered to the baby's lungs through an endotracheal tube (a small plastic tube that's inserted 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.
Video: Preemies in the NICU
See what happens in the neonatal intensive care unit and how the littlest babies are treated. Plus, learn about the important role parents play in the NICU.