This is an introduction to the main equipment commonly utilized in a NICU. If you have any questions regarding the equipment described here or any other equipment that may be utilized in the care of your infant, please ask one of your baby's NICU team members. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
When your baby or babies are first brought to the NICU we place them on an open warmer. This is a type of bed that is "open", thus allowing the NICU team to have access to your baby during the admission process, but that also has a radiant heat source keeping your baby warm. After the admission process is complete and your baby is stable, your baby will be moved to either an isolette or a bassinet depending on your baby's individual needs. An isolette is an enclosed bed that helps to keep your baby warm, while also acting as a barrier to sound and light during periods of rest. A bassinet is an open crib that your baby will be placed in once his or her condition no longer warrants an open warmer or isolette.
During the admission process and throughout your baby's stay in the NICU, the NICU team will be using various equipment to assess, monitor and care for your infant. During the admission process, your baby will be connected to a cardio-respiratory monitor via electrodes placed on his or her skin. These electrodes send messages through wires to the monitor about your babies heart and respiratory rate, thus allowing the NICU team to monitor your baby's vital signs. Your baby will also be connected to the cardio-respiratory monitor via an oximeter. The oximeter is a device that is wrapped around a foot or hand and sends messages to the monitor via wires about your baby's oxygen levels. The monitor is programmed to alarm if any of the heart rate, respiratory rate, or oxygen level readings are outside of the normal limits. If a reading does fall outside the normal limits, an NICU team member will intervene. Sometimes when your baby is moving or being moved there are false alarms, so just because an alarm is sounding doesn't mean there is a reason to be concerned. The NICU team members are monitoring the alarms and if the NICU team members are not concerned about an alarm, you don't need to be concerned. Your baby will remain connected to a cardio-respiratory monitor throughout their stay in the NICU.
Temperature and Weight
While in the NICU, babies will also have their temperature and weight monitored. All babies have their temperature checked at least every 3-6 hours throughout the day using a thermometer. In the NICU, the NICU team uses the kind of thermometers that have a probe that is placed in the underarm area. If a baby is on an open warmer or in an isolette, they may also have their temperature monitored using a temperature probe. A temperature probe is a thin tube that is placed on a baby's skin and then connected to the open warmer or isolette via wires. Babies in the NICU have their weight measured at least once a day. They are weighed using portable scales that can be brought to the bedside. Some isolettes and open warmers have scales built right into them, therefore at times we are able to weigh an infant right in the isolette or on the open warmer.
Sometimes newborn babies need help with their breathing after they are born for various reasons. There are a variety of ways that the NICU team can help your baby with breathing if need be. The NICU team will decide which way will best suit your baby based on their individual needs. One way is using an oxygen hood. This is a tent-like hood with oxygen fed into it that is placed over the head area of a baby when extra oxygen is needed. Another way that the NICU team can administer extra oxygen to a baby is via a nasal cannula. A nasal cannula is clear plastic tubing that is connected to an oxygen source and that has little tubes at the end that allow the oxygen to pass through into a baby's nasal passages. If an infant needs more assistance with breathing than just extra oxygen, they can be placed on a high-flow nasal cannula, a cpap machine, or a ventilator. A high-flow nasal cannula uses clear plastic tubing just like the regular nasal cannula. The difference is rather than just being connected to an oxygen source, the high-flow nasal cannula is connected to a machine that not only administers oxygen, but also some pressure to help the oxygen get into the lungs. If the infant needs more pressure and support than what the high-flow nasal cannula can administer, then a cpap machine will be used. A cpap machine is a more advanced way of administering oxygen and pressure than the high-flow nasal cannula. Some babies who need more assistance with breathing than a cpap machine can provide will be placed on a ventilator. A ventilator is a machine that sends oxygen into an infant's lungs through a slender tube called a breathing tube, or an endotracheal tube. An endotracheal tube or ET tube is a tube that passes through a baby's mouth into the trachea or windpipe.
When babies are admitted to the NICU, like all babies they will need nourishment. Sometimes, for various reasons, a baby may not be able to get nourishment by feeding. If this is the case, they can be nourished by receiving intravenous nourishment through an intravenous line. An intravenous line (IV line) is a tiny tube inserted into a baby's vein by a thin needle, through which the baby can receive intravenous fluids and nourishment, and also intravenous medications. This intravenous line can be placed in an arm, hand, foot, or scalp vein. Lines can also be placed in an infant's belly button. This is called an umbilical catheter. An umbilical catheter is a tiny tube inserted into an artery or vein in a baby's umbilical cord or belly button. It can be used to give intravenous fluids and medications like the IV line, but it can also be used to obtain small amounts of blood for lab testing.
If a baby in the NICU is able to take in nourishment by feeding, but isn't able to take in enough, the baby can be fed using a feeding tube. A feeding tube is a slender tube passed through a baby's nose or mouth into their stomach, through which breastmilk or formula can be administered until the baby is able to take in enough breastmilk or formula on their own via breast or bottle feeding. These tubes may also be referred to as a nasogastric tube when it is passed through the nose or an orogastric tube when it is passed through the mouth.