Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

After your premature baby is moved to the NICU, he or she may undergo a number of tests. Some are ongoing, while others may be performed only if the NICU staff suspect a particular complication.

Possible tests for your premature baby may include:

  • Breathing and heart rate monitor. Your baby's breathing and heart rate are monitored on a continuous basis. Blood pressure readings are done frequently, too.
  • Fluid input and output. The NICU team carefully tracks how much fluid your baby takes in through feedings and intravenous fluids and how much fluid your baby loses through wet or soiled diapers, blood draws and other tests.
  • Blood tests. Blood samples are collected through a heel stick or a needle inserted into a vein to check calcium, glucose and bilirubin levels in your baby's blood. A blood sample may also be analyzed to measure the red blood cell count and check for anemia. If your baby's doctor anticipates that several blood samples will be needed, NICU staff may insert a central umbilical intravenous (IV) line, to avoid having to stick your baby with a needle each time blood is needed.
  • Echocardiogram. This test is an ultrasound of the heart to check for problems with your baby's heart function. Much like a fetal ultrasound, an electrocardiogram uses sound waves to produce moving images on a display monitor.
  • Ultrasound scan. Ultrasound scans may be done to check the brain for bleeding or fluid buildup or to examine the abdominal organs for problems in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Eye exam. An ophthalmologist (eye doctor) may examine your baby's eyes and vision to check for problems with the retina (retinopathy of prematurity).

If your baby develops any complications, more specialized testing may be needed.

Dec. 29, 2011