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Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Common Terminology

Pregnancy can be a confusing time, but we're here to help you. See below for the most commonly used terms and an explanation of their meaning.


Having too few red blood cells which carry oxygen in the blood.


Medication used to treat bacterial infection without harming good bacteria within the body.

Apnoea of prematurity (Apnoea means no breathing)

Pathways within the brain are not fully formed causing lack of control over his/her breathing.

Blood gas

This may be taken from the heel prick or direct from an artery (blood vessel which carries oxygen). The blood gas tells us baby's respiratory condition. Commonly in small early babies a line is put into the arterial blood vessel in baby's umbilical cord (tummy button) called an umbilical arterial catheter. Baby's blood pressure can be monitored via this and blood samples taken without disturbing baby.

Blood oxygen level

The amount of oxygen present in the baby's blood.

Blood pressure (BP)

This is measured with a small cuff (baby sized version of the one you had during your pregnancy) or directly via the umbilical arterial line and tells us how much pressure is being used to pump the blood around baby.

Blood transfusion

Blood transfusions are sometimes required. Transfusions are performed to replace blood that babies have not been able to produce.

Brady, bradycardia, dips

The baby's heart beat has slowed down. A cardiorator will be used to record the heart beat via three sensors two on the chest and the other on a leg.

Medication is given to help support the breathing and heart rate when born below 32 weeks. The medication of choice is caffeine (a bit like us having a strong black coffee in the morning.) This is given daily.

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) - Chronic lung disease

A complex disorder of the lungs which resulted from the premature baby needing support from a ventilator in the first few weeks of life.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

Air and oxygen are given under pressure into the nose via small tubes attached to a hat. This allows baby to breathe with assistance because the air sacs within the lungs do not fully collapse making the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen easier.

Desats, desaturation

The blood oxygen levels have dropped below a normal amount. The nurses or doctors will set an alarm depending on baby's gestational age. This helps them to decide if baby needs extra oxygen.

Donor EBM

Breast milk that has been collected, tested and pasteurised from another mother and made available for other babies to use.


Expressed breast milk.


Minerals that are present in the blood eg. calcium, sodium and potassium which are essential for life and need to be balanced.

Endotracheal tube (ET tube)

A soft tube that is introduced into the mouth and leads into the lungs, connected to a ventilator.


The oxygen carrying part of the red blood cell.

Heart beat/rate

The number of times the heart is contracting to push blood carrying oxygen to the brain, lungs and rest of body. Your baby's heart rate can vary from 120-160 beats per minute.


Lack of glucose in the blood which is needed for energy.


A clear plastic box bed with drawers below allowing baby to be kept warm. It supports the lines and leads attached to baby. Parents and medical staff care for baby through small doorways called portholes.

Intravenous lines, IV and Drips

These are very thin tubes inserted into the blood vessel in an arm or leg, allowing nutritious fluid to be given.


The breakdown of excess red blood cells after birth which lay down bile salts in the skin.  A Phototherapy light is usually used to treat the yellow colouring.

Kangaroo care (KC)

Skin to skin holding which all parents are encouraged to do once baby is stable. The baby will rest onto mum or dads bare chest and both are covered by a blanket.


The first poo/stool, produced during the pregnancy usually a green black colour and very sticky.

Nasal cannula/nasal prongs

A measured amount of oxygen will be given into the nose via small tubes in the nasal nares.


Extra fluid collected beneath the skin which leads to swelling.

PDA, patent ductus arteriosus

The ductus arteriosus is open during the pregnancy and the placenta supplies the foetus(baby) with oxygen. Normally within 24hours of birth when baby is breathing for himself the ductus arteriosus closes. When this flap does not close it is called a patent ductus arteriosus. It can correct itself over the next few months but may require medication or surgery to close it.


Particles that float around in the blood and help blood to clot.


When the baby’s temperature is measuring higher than normal. The nurse will use a hand held thermometer or a sensor on the body. Monitoring the temperature is very important, a low temperature also indicate a problem. The aim is to keep babies temperature between 36.6°C and 37.2°C

Respiratory distress syndrome

A lung disorder that affects premature babies due to their lungs being immature and not producing sufficient surfactant.

SB, bili, bilirubin level

These refer to the blood test levels of bilirubin in the blood which makes baby look yellow ie. jaundiced.


A chemical in the lungs of term babies and adults which helps keep their airway open.

Tube feeding

A tube can be inserted into the stomach via the nose or mouth in order to give milk.

Umbilical arterial catheter

This measures your baby's blood pressure and blood samples can be taken without disturbing baby.

Umbilical venous catheter

A line/tube into the vein in the umbilical cord which allows nutritious fluid to be given.


A waste product removed from the body in urine.


A breathing machine which can be controlled by the doctors and nurses giving measured amounts of oxygen allowing baby to breathe with the machine inflating and deflating the lungs. The breathing may be quite fast initially and as baby improves the machine will do less and baby will do more of the breathing. This is weaning baby off the vent.

Vital Signs

Heart beat, temperature, blood oxygen level, blood pressure.