Your baby will have a number of tests during their stay in the NICU. These tests help find out what your baby's problems may be and how they should be treated. Tests also help monitor their progress. Below is a list of common tests done in the NICU. Your baby may need other tests, depending on his/her medical condition.
The most frequent test done in the NICU, blood tests provide information on how your baby is doing and can alert doctors and nurse practitioners to possible problems before they become more serious. There are several different ways blood can be collected from your baby. The most common way of collecting blood is through your baby’s foot called a heel stick.
X-rays provide pictures of your baby's lungs and other organs. These pictures help plan treatment and monitor progress. Your baby may receive several lung X-rays each day if there is a breathing problem. The X-ray can be looked at by the nurse practitioner and neonatologist shortly after it has been taken. A radiologist (doctor who specializes in X-rays) will also look at the X-ray within 24 hours of it being taken.
Ultrasound takes a picture of a baby's organs using sound waves, rather than X-rays. Warmed gel is placed on the area that is being looked at and then a small hand-held device called a transducer is rubbed back and forth over the area that the doctor wants to see. An ultrasound examination is painless and done at the baby's bed. The radiologist will look at the ultrasound within 24 hours and write a report.
All babies are screened for hearing. Premature and/or sick babies are at increased risk of hearing problems. A small probe is put into each ear. Testing takes about five to eight minutes. Your baby's doctor will discuss the results of the hearing test and any follow-up needed.
Car seat study
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends infants born before 37 weeks gestation have their breathing and heart rate checked while in a car seat. Other conditions that require car seat testing would be if your infant has a heart defect, neurologic problem, feeding problem or requires oxygen. Your baby is placed into the car seat as if you were going for a ride. If your car seat has a base to it, that will need to be brought with the car seat for testing. A probe is placed on your baby’s hand or foot to watch their oxygen level. Your baby’s breathing, heart rate and oxygen will be watched for at least 90 minutes or how long it takes you to drive home if that is longer than 90 minutes. To pass the car seat the oxygen level reading from the probe needs to be above 85% throughout the test, have no breathing pauses greater than 20 seconds and no heart rate drops below 80 beats per minute.
Babies born at less than or equal to 32 weeks gestation and some older babies who have needed oxygen will have an eye exam. Before the exam, the nurse will place medicine drops in your baby’s eyes to dilate the pupil so the doctor can see the retina. The eye exam evaluates the blood vessel pattern and growth. Eye exams occur every one to three weeks until the blood vessel growth is completed or mature. Once the blood vessel growth is mature, eye exams occur every 6 months or as directed by the Ophthalmologist.