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Reference Information

Glossary of commonly used terms and abbreviations

You may come across the following terms and abbreviations in the course of your baby’s treatment. This list is provided for your reference in understanding the complex vocabulary that may be used during your baby’s stay in the neonatal unit.

For more terms related to prematurity and neonatal care, see;

The APGAR score used how awake and how well a baby is when they are born. 

Hospital outpatient clinic for babies.

Developmental assessment scale measuring cognitive, language, motor and behavioural/emotional development.

Feeds given at intervals, for example, every 2-3-4 hours, like when breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.

Milk produced by mothers.

Maternal milk (MM)/mothers own milk (MOM) are terms used to refer to milk produced by a baby’s own mother.

Donor milk (DM)/refers to milk donated by another mother. Donor milk is pasteurised and dispensed by the milk bank. See also ‘Expressed Breast Milk’

Breast milk fortifier (BMF)/human milk Fortifier (HMF)

Relating to the heart

CPR is pressing on a baby’s chest to move blood around their body if their heart isn’t working properly. In babies if their heart rate is below 60 their heart is beating too slowly to move blood around their body and unless their heart rate increases, they will need CPR.

Brain and spinal cord – part of the nervous system.

Relating to the brain.

This is fluid that is made in the brain, which flows around the brain and spinal cord. Hydrocephalus occurs if the flow of this fluid gets blocked. This fluid is tested when we are checking for meningitis with a lumbar puncture.

Cognitive means how you think.

Continuous feeds are given through a feeding tube using an infusion pump to control the how fast they go in.

‘Corrected age’ counts a baby’s age from the time they should have been born (their due date), rather than the time they were actually born.

Babies who need breathing support can find it very difficult to open up their lungs with each breath. Think of it like when you let the air out of a blown-up balloon, there will be a small amount left in the balloon making blowing it up again easier. The baby’s lung on CPAP is similar to the balloon, making breathing easier for them – the CPAP keeps the lungs open when baby breathes out. CPAP is given by a mask over baby’s nose or two little prongs into baby’s nose. CPAP can give a mixture of air and oxygen.

Relating to the head including the brain.

Ultrasound scans are like the scans done before your baby was born. There is no radiation with ultrasound scans. They are most commonly used to look at the inside of your baby’s brain in the neonatal unit. The ultrasound will be done by an ultrasonographer, a specialist radiographer who does ultrasounds, or by the consultant radiologist. If the ultrasonographer does the ultrasound, the results of it will be reported by the consultant radiologist.

Encephalopathy means that baby’s brain is not working properly.  Baby may have seizures or be irritable. Some babies with encephalopathy can be floppier than they should be; some babies do not react to us in the way that they are supposed to. Some severe forms of encephalopathy might cause babies to be unable to breathe without the support of a ventilator. Many things can cause encephalopathy. The medical team will decide how best to investigate and manage each individual case.


An ECG measures the electrical activity of the heart. The ECG needs ten stickers to go on baby’s chest.

An EEG measures the electrical impulses of the brain.

CFM/aEEG: This is a machine that does a ‘mini-EEG’ that lets us see the electrical activity in a baby’s brain. There are three or five little probes attached to baby’s head. This is used often in babies who are at risk of having a seizure. This is also used in babies who are being cooled.

This tube goes into baby’s lung via their windpipe (trachea) so that we can help their breathing with a ventilator and give medication like surfactant.

Feeds given directly into the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT/gut). This includes oral feeds and tube feeds.

This is breastmilk that has been expressed by hand or by a pump.

Birth weight less than 1000 g (2 lb 3 ozs)

Precise use of the hands and fingers.

Curled-up position.

Relating to the stomach.

This may also be referred to as the ‘gut’. The GIT includes the oesophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach), the stomach and the intestine (bowel).

Use of the large muscles of the body, including the arms and legs.

Relating to the liver.

Intravenous means into a vein, i.e. directly into the blood.

A lumbar puncture is a test that is used to check the CSF, which goes around baby’s brain and spine. This test is mainly done to check if a baby has meningitis. Sometimes results come back very quickly, sometimes they take longer. This test uses a little needle put into the space between the bones in baby’s back. Baby is held very still for this test and it is a sterile procedure

MRI is a special scan to get a clear picture of the inside of the body. MRIs are done most commonly to look at the inside of babies’ brains. MRIs don’t use any radiation because they use very strong magnets to do the scan.

The neonatal team will get your baby ready for their MRI. An MRI scan generally lasts at least an hour and sometimes longer. In small babies, the MRI scan is normally done after a feed so that they will sleep and stay still for the scan. This is called a ‘feed and wrap’ MRI because after their feed we keep baby cosy in the MRI scanner so that they sleep and stay still. Sometimes if your baby cannot stay still in the scanner or if babies are older, sometimes medication is used to help baby sleep during the scan. A specialised nurse will be in the MRI department with your baby at all times. The MRI nurse will tell you all about the scan if you are bringing your baby in from home for the MRI.

Poo/faeces made by the baby’s bowels before they are born. It is normally passed after baby is born, in their first dirty nappy. If a baby is stressed before they are born, they can poo into the fluid around them. If a baby is very stressed before they are born, they can sometimes breathe this poo into their lungs and this can cause problems with breathing – a problem called ‘Meconium Aspiration Syndrome’.

A tube that passes through a nostril in the nose into the stomach, generally used to give feeds.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is where babies get the most intensive care. These are the sickest and smallest babies in the hospital. In the NICU most babies will be in incubators or on open tables, and many babies will have machines to help their breathing. 

NICU can be scary for parents. Even though there is lots of equipment, it is still  important to interact with your baby, and the team helping to look after your baby are happy to help you with the best ways to do this.

Nothing via the mouth.

Head circumference measurement.

Feeds given by mouth. This includes breastfeeds, bottle feeds, cup feeds and spoon feeds.

A tube that passes through the mouth into the stomach, generally used to give feeds.

This is used when a baby can’t take enough nutrition through their tummies: it is a mixture of protein, carbohydrates and fats with vitamins and minerals and salts given directly into the blood.

A PDA is a little linking blood vessel that is supposed to be there before a baby is born when blood does not need to flow through baby’s lungs. It normally closes after baby is born and they start breathing. Sometimes it does not close in preterm babies and in some babies with a PDA, it can need treatment with medication. The medication does not work in some babies and sometimes babies need to be transferred to CHI at Crumlin to have the PDA closed with heart surgery or a device through a blood vessel.

PVL is a form of brain injury that can affect babies. This happens when the brain does not get enough oxygen when it is developing and some brain cells can die and be replaced with fluid cysts. PVL can be seen on an ultrasound of a baby’s brain – or on an MRI. PVL can cause problems with your baby’s development when they get older and babies who have PVL have their development more closely followed because of this.

Via the mouth.

Lying on tummy.

Relating to the lungs.

Community based nurse who provides a range of health services including checks for mothers and babies post discharge home. PHNs may also assess your baby’s growth and provide guidance on care, feeding and development. Your local PHN is usually accessed via your local Health Centre/Primary Care Centre.

Relating to the kidneys.

Lying on back.

Feeds given through a feeding tube, generally into the stomach. Tube feeds may also be referred to as gavage feeds.