RN, LPN, CPAP, RSV, ROV — it's practically an alphabet soup of acronyms alongside  what could be considered a foreign language of medical terms. We know that the medical field lingo can be confusing, hard to follow and even scary. Below we have compiled a NICU parent "key" with the definitions of staff common NICU conditions and NICU equipment. But never feel too uncomfortable to ask your doctor, your nurse and our childbirth navigator about anything you don't understand. We are your partner in your baby's care!


The following is a list of specially trained infant health care providers who may care of your baby while in the NICU:

  • Neonatologist: A pediatrician who has special training to care for sick and premature newborns.
  • Neonatal fellow: A pediatrician who is training to become a neonatologist.
  • Hospitalist: A pediatrician trained to care for sick newborns.
  • Resident: A doctor who is training in a medical specialty.
  • Neonatal nurse practitioner: An RN with a master's degree who has training to care for sick and premature newborns and works under the direction of a neonatologist.
  • Clinical nurse specialist: An RN with a master's degree who specializes in the care and education of patients with specific conditions.
  • RN: Registered nurse.
  • LPN: Licensed practical nurse who works under the direction of an RN.
  • PCT: Patient care technician who works under the direction of an RN.
  • Respiratory therapist: A professional with training in respiratory conditions who operates the medical equipment to care for babies with breathing problems.
  • Occupational therapist: A professional with training to help baby's muscles work properly.
  • Social worker: A professional who helps you with emotional concerns for your baby in the nursery, helps you deal with financial needs and helps you get special equipment or caregivers when your baby is ready to go home.
  • Nutritionist: A registered dietician who specializes in helping newborns eat and grow.
  • Lactation counselor: A professional with special training to help mothers with breastfeeding.

Common NICU Terms Glossary:

  • Apnea: Breathing stops for more than 15 seconds.
  • Blood gases: Checked for levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
  • Blood sugar (glucose): Checked for proper balance.
  • Bradycardia: Slow heart beat.
  • Catheter: A small, thin plastic tube used to give or remove fluids.
  • C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure): Air given through two small tubes just inside the nose.
  • Developmental care: Special attention to baby's stage of development and ability to tolerate activity.
  • Endotracheal tube: A small plastic tube used to connect baby's lungs to a "breathing machine" or ventilator.
  • Gavage feeding: A small tube in the nose or mouth that delivers food to the stomach or intestines.
  • High-frequency ventilation: A special "breathing machine" or ventilator that "breathes" for the baby at a very fast rate.
  • Incubator/isolette: A clear plastic bed for baby with a special heating/warming system.
  • Intravenous: Into a vein.
  • Jaundice: Temporary yellow color of skin and eyes usually due to an immature liver.
  • Kangaroo care: A special way to hold baby, bundled in a blanket or shirt and placed on Mom's or Dad's bare chest.
  • Meconium: Dark green, gooey stool, which is baby's first bowel movement.
  • NAS: Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
  • Ophthalmologist: A doctor who specializes in the care and treatment of the eyes.
  • Oxygen: A gas needed for breathing.
  • Phototherapy: A blue fluorescent light used to treat jaundice.
  • Premature: Infants born before 37 weeks of gestation.
  • Pulse oximeter: Placed on baby's foot or hand to measure oxygen in the blood.
  • Radiant warmer: A special bed with an overhead heater to keep baby warm.
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS): A serious breathing problem that mainly affects babies born prematurely.
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV): A virus that can cause severe breathing problems in very young babies.
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP): An eye disorder in babies born prematurely that can lead to vision loss or blindness.
  • Sepsis: A widespread infection in the blood.
  • Surfactant: A substance in the lungs that helps keep the small air sacks from collapsing.
  • Tachycardia: Fast heart beat.
  • Ultrasound: A test that uses sound waves on the outside of the body to produce a picture of the inside.
  • Ventilator: A machine to help breathing; also called a respirator.