Medical Equipment

Initially, seeing all of the medical equipment used to treat your baby can be very overwhelming. The noises, beeps, clicks, alarms and flashing lights coming from the machines will seem strange at first, but over time you will become familiar with the equipment and learn how each machine is helping. The staff will be happy to explain any equipment to you.

“I cried and apologised to my poor little girl when I saw her covered in wires and tubes; she was crying and looked miserable. I felt guilty that I had put her through all the pain and discomfort. I felt that my body had failed her.” 

– Deborah Soars, mum to Tylisa born at 34 weeks

The following is a list of some of the medical equipment you may see in the unit:

  • Apnoea monitor: Machine that detects interruptions in breathing and alerts the nurse if breathing has paused.
  • Bili lights: Bright blue ultraviolet lights, also known as phototherapy lights. They are used to treat jaundice, which is the yellowness of the skin caused by too much bilirubin (a product released from red blood cells) in the blood. The lights are placed over the baby’s humidicrib or open care bed and the baby usually only wears a nappy and cloth eye shield. The jaundice usually disappears by three weeks of age. Jaundice is common, affecting up to 70% of newborn babies.
  • Blood pressure monitor: A small cuff that is wrapped around the baby’s arm or leg. The cuff automatically takes the blood pressure at regular times and displays the results on the screen.
  • Cardio respiratory monitor: Sometimes referred to as a heart monitor. Three adhesive patches with wires connected to them are placed on the baby's chest, abdomen, arms or legs. The wires travel to a machine that displays the baby's heart rate, heart beat pattern, breathing rate and breathing pattern. If your baby’s heart rate or breathing pattern is too fast or too slow, an alarm will sound.
  • C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure): Many premature babies need help with their breathing. One or two soft prongs are inserted into the baby’s nostrils and oxygen (or air) is given under a small amount of pressure. Delivering oxygen under pressure helps keep the lungs expanded and reduces the amount of effort it takes for your baby to breathe. To ensure the pressure is generated inside the baby’s airway, it is important to keep your baby’s mouth closed; a small, soft chin strap is often used for this.
  • Gastric tube: A soft tube inserted via the mouth or nose into the stomach, which gives your baby expressed breast milk or formula until he or she can suck feed.
  • Humidicrib: Also known as an incubator or isolette, this is a clear plastic box that provides a warm, controlled, clean, enclosed environment where the baby can be easily observed. It helps protect the baby from infection and excess handling, and prevents them from using vital energy/calories to keep warm. It may have two walls to keep out cold air, and may be set to a high humidity and warm temperature so the baby does not lose water through their skin, which is very thin when they are born premature.
  • Intravenous pump (IV pump): Most sick babies have an intravenous (IV) line, which is used to give fluids, nourishment or medication. Some may have an arterial line, which is used to monitor blood pressure continuously and allows medical staff to take blood samples without pricking the baby. IV pumps regulate the rate at which fluids flow into the baby through these lines, often referred to as ‘drips’.
  • Low flow oxygen: A method of giving oxygen to a baby through a small, flexible, hollow plastic tube placed in their nostril. The tube is taped to the baby’s face and blows oxygen through holes in the tube, which are situated just under the baby’s nose. A baby born extremely premature may need to go home with nasal cannula oxygen, but this will be organised by the hospital and discussed with you in detail.
  • Nitric oxide: A gas that can sometimes be used in babies with particular breathing problems. It is delivered by a machine linked to a ventilator.
  • Pulse oximeter: A small device that uses a light sensor to help monitor oxygen levels in the blood. It is usually attached to the baby’s hand or foot, and secured in place with a stretchy tape. If the levels are too high or low, alarms will sound and the oxygen levels will be adjusted.
  • Radiant heaters/open care cot: These units keep babies warm while permitting easy access for the nurses and medical staff from all sides during the most critical periods. They are an open bed with special overhead heaters. Some seriously ill babies are nursed under these heaters instead of a humidicrib if they need to be handled frequently, or if they are too large to be placed in a humidicrib but still require intensive care treatments.
  • Temperature probe: This monitors your baby’s skin temperature. The information given is used to help regulate the amount of heat from the overhead heater or humidicrib.
  • Umbilical venous and arterial catheters: The umbilicus fed your baby when they were in the womb. After birth, the blood vessels in the umbilical cord may be used to place small catheters, through which medication and nutrition can be delivered, blood pressure can be measured and blood samples can be taken.
  • Urinary catheter: If your baby requires urine to be collected or measured, a catheter is sometimes placed into the bladder, where urine is collected. This is soft and will be removed once your baby is passing urine adequately.
  • Ventilator: If C-PAP isn’t enough to support your baby’s breathing, a small plastic tube (ETT) may be inserted through the baby’s nose or mouth down into the trachea (windpipe). The windpipe enters the baby’s lungs and allows the delivery of oxygen or air under pressure directly into the lungs. The endotracheal tube (ETT) is then connected to a ventilator (or respirator), which is a machine that delivers warmed and humidified air or oxygen into the baby’s lungs. It may take over the baby’s breathing completely, or help support the baby’s own breathing efforts. The amount of oxygen, pressure and number of breaths per minute can be regulated to meet your baby’s needs. Sometimes a ventilator that can wobble your baby’s chest (a high frequency ventilator) is used. This provides less pressure but at a much faster rate. Both forms of ventilator will be explained by the nursing or medical staff in the unit.
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