Three babies sleeping in incubators in the NICU.

Terms Encountered in the NICU

You may hear some of the following medical terms most commonly associated with the treatment of RDS while your baby is in the NICU.


An incubator, sometimes referred to as a closed crib, is an enclosed bed for small babies that provides a controlled environment (temperature, oxygen, and/or light) for infant care and observation.


Produced by the lungs, surfactant is a liquid that helps decrease the surface tension within the lungs to keep the alveoli (tiny air sacs) open to aid in gas exchange.

Oxygen therapy:

A treatment that delivers oxygen gas for patients to breathe.

Noninvasive ventilation:

Breathing support administered through a face mask, a nasal cannula (a tube used to deliver oxygen through the nostrils), or a similar device.


Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, helps the lungs stay open through a continuous flow of air/oxygen so your baby can breathe easier. When the baby’s lungs are kept open, it is easier for the baby to maintain healthy oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. CPAP is delivered by mask or nasal prongs that fit inside or over the nose. These devices are connected to a breathing machine that delivers a continuous flow of oxygen.


Also known as a breathing machine, a ventilator helps patients who cannot take breaths on their own to move air into and out of their lungs (mechanical ventilation).

Endotracheal tube:

A tube that is placed through the mouth into the trachea (windpipe) to help the patient breathe.

OG or NG tube (orogastric or nasogastric tube):

A feeding tube that goes through either the mouth or nose into the stomach.

Bradycardia (Brady):

A pathologically slow heart rate that often occurs in premature infants.

Desaturation (Desat):

A decrease in the oxygen saturation level of the blood, specifically hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells).

Kangaroo care:

A term used to describe holding an infant skin-to-skin against mom or dad. The parent’s body heat helps regulate the infant’s body temperature, which is necessary because many preemies have less body fat to regulate their own temperature.

The NICU can be very overwhelming.
There is a lot to learn and understand while being your child’s advocate.