How will my baby be monitored in the NICU?

Intermountain Registered Dietitians
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Your baby will be closely monitored throughout her stay in the NICU. This means wires, tubes, patches, probes, and machines—which can all be scary. It can be difficult to watch your little one being poked and prodded and hooked up to machines. Knowing that it’s all for her own good, and understanding a little bit about what you’re seeing and hearing, may help to ease some of the fear. Your baby will be attached to one or more monitors that record and show her vital signs—heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and the amount of oxygen in her blood.

Small monitoring pads, called electrodes, will be placed on your baby in the NICU. The electrodes detect chest movement as your baby breathes. They also pick up the impulses of her heartbeat. Wires attached to the electrodes send the information to the monitor by your baby’s bed.

Blood pressure may be monitored periodically in the NICU by a small cuff placed around your baby’s arm or leg. Blood pressure may also be monitored continuously through a small catheter in your baby’s artery.

Your baby will be connected to a pulse oximeter (also known as an oxygen saturation monitor) in the NICU that measures the amount of oxygen in her tissues. The oximeter shines a small red light through your baby’s hand or foot to register the amount of oxygen in the blood. This number is recorded on one of the monitors by your baby’s bed.

Your baby may be connected to a type of monitor called a transcutaneous monitor (TCM) while in the NICU. This machine can measure oxygen and carbon dioxide through the skin. A small circular piece attaches to the skin with adhesive. This piece heats up a tiny area of skin and can measure the oxygen and the carbon dioxide levels. A tiny cord travels from the circular piece to a machine that displays the information. The oxygen measurement from this piece is different from that measured by the pulse oximeter and is usually lower.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.