A Guide to NICU Equipment


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Image by wellcome images via Flickr


Having a premature baby can be a scary time and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be even scarier. It’s full of machines and your baby maybe attached to monitors that you know nothing about.

I’ve put together a guide to the equipment you may find in the NICU, hopefully this will answer any questions you may have and make the place a little less scary.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

The NICU is specially equipped to take care of premature and ill babies. Your baby’s care and needs will be met here. NICU Staff have been specially trained to look after and treat premature babies.

Radiant Warmer

A Radiant Warmer is a unit, which has a mattress inside for your baby to lie on and heater overhead. Newborn babies need help to regulate their body temperature, this is even more important for a preemie baby. The Radiant Warmer keeps your baby warm and also allows the NICU Staff to access them with ease to monitor and provide medical care. A premature baby is often taken to the NICU in a Radiant Warmer, later they may be transferred into an incubator.


Once your baby is stable they will be moved to an incubator, which is a large Plexiglass box with a mattress inside, these are sometimes called an Isolette.  An Isolette helps your baby maintain their body temperature. Some Radiant Warmers have a lid that can be closed to turn the warmer into an incubator.

Pulse Oximeter

A Pulse Oximeter is used to measure the amount of oxygen in the baby’s blood. A small probe is placed on a baby’s wrist, finger or foot and held in place with a bandage. The readings from the Pulse Oximeter are displayed on a monitor often along with their respiratory rate, oxygen intake and heart rate. The probe is often placed on the foot of a premature baby; this may be rotated throughout the day to ensure the probe does not damage the baby’s delicate skin.

Transcutaneous Monitor

A Transcutaneous Monitor measures the amount of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide in the baby’s blood. An electrode is placed on the baby’s skin to measure this.

Heart Monitor

A Heart Monitor is used to monitor the baby’s heart rate. A sensor is attached to your baby’s chest and their heart rate is displayed on a monitor, often with a reading from the Pulse Oximeter. If the baby’s heart rate goes up or down too much an alarm will sound to notify the NICU staff.

Monitor Screen

The Monitor Screen is used to display readings from any monitor your baby is attached to. This includes Oxygen Saturation, heart rate and respiratory rate. If any level drops too low or go too high an alarm will sound and the NICU staff will make any adjustments they need or provide any medical care required.


Any medical treatment or care you baby receives in the NICU is recorded in their computerised medical record. You will often find a computer in the NICU for the staff to update these records.


A Ventilator is used to help premature babies with immature lungs breath. The Ventilator helps to regulate the mixture of oxygen, as well as the rate and pressure. A tube called an endotracheal tube is placed in the windpipe allowing the Ventilator to push oxygen into the lungs. Ventilators are programmed to fit each baby’s need; some babies need more help than others. You will find two pieces of equipment attached to the Ventilator; these are the Nitric Oxide Delivery Unit and the High Frequency Oscillator.

Nitric Oxide Delivery Unit

The Nitric Oxide Delivery Unit delivers nitric oxide to the blood vessels around the lungs. This relaxes them and stops them from being damaged.

High-Frequency Oscillator

The High -Frequency Oscillator helps to keep your baby’s lungs open. It shakes the air into the lungs in measured amounts, which stops any damage to the lung tissue.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is used when a premature baby needs some help breathing. This is often used after a baby has come off the Ventilator but will also be used if the baby needs extra help with their breathing. The CPAP provides a pressurized flow of oxygen rich air to the baby’s lungs; it helps keeps their lungs open and keeps their oxygen level stable. Two small tubes are placed into or just under the baby’s nostrils. The pressure can come from either a bubble CPAP which is a device that uses a column of water or from a ventilator.


An Oxyhood is a plastic hood that is placed over a premature babies head, oxygen rich air is released. This is used for babies who can breathe unaided but need extra oxygen.

Nasal Cannula

A Nasal Cannula is used to blow oxygen rich air into the baby’s lungs. Two small plastic tubes are placed into the baby’s nostrils. This is another method for babies who can breathe unaided but may need extra oxygen.

Intravenous Line (IV)

An Intravenous Line is a very fine line that is used to deliver medication and sometimes food to a premature baby. The line is entered in to vein this can be in the arm, leg, scalp or umbilical cord. The line is attached to a monitor that ensures the right amount of food or medication is being given to the baby.

Feeding Tube

A Feeding Tube is used when a premature baby cannot be fed by either breast or bottle-feeding yet, often because they have difficulty sucking or coordinating their sucking and breathing at the same time. A small tube is passed down the nose or mouth through to the stomach so the liquid can be feed directly into it.

Prem2Pram have a wide selection of premature baby clothes specifically designed to be worn by babies in the NICU.


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