Because most babies in the NICU are too small or sick to take milk feedings, medications and fluids are often given through their veins or arteries. Babies may also need frequent lab tests and measurements of blood oxygen levels. There are several ways a baby may receive fluids and medications and have blood drawn without additional needle sticks, including the following:
Intravenous line (IV). Babies may have an IV placed in a hand, foot, or scalp, where veins are easily accessed. Tubing connects the IV to a bag containing fluids that are carefully delivered with a pump.
Umbilical catheter. After the umbilical cord is cut at birth, newborn babies have the short stumps of the cord remaining. Because the umbilical cord stump is still connected to their blood and circulatory system, a catheter (small flexible tube) can be inserted into one of the two arteries or the vein of the umbilical cord. Medications, fluids, and blood can be given through this catheter. After placement of the umbilical catheter, X-rays are taken to check the location in the baby's body.
Percutaneous line. A catheter is placed in a deep vein or artery in the baby's arm or leg and is used for meeting a baby's longer-term needs than an IV in the hand or scalp.
A baby may need IV lines or catheters for just a short time or for many days. Once a baby is well enough to take milk feedings and is gaining weight, IV lines can often be removed. Sometimes, an IV may be needed for giving a baby antibiotics or other medication even when the baby can be fed normally.