A catheter is a long, soft, hollow tube. Catheters vary in size. An umbilical catheter is used for different reasons.
An umbilical artery catheter (UAC) allows blood to be taken from an infant at different times, without repeated needle sticks. It can be used to continuously monitor your baby's blood pressure, too. This type of catheter is most often used if your baby needs breathing help or very strong medicines to treat blood pressure problems.
An umbilical venous catheter (UVC) allows fluids and medications to be given without having to frequently replace an intravenous (IV) line. This type of catheter may be used if your baby is very premature, has bowel problems that prevent feeding, or needs very strong medicines to treat blood pressure problems.
HOW ARE UMBILICAL CATHETERS PLACED?
There are normally two umbilical arteries and one umbilical vein in the umbilical cord. After the umbilical cord is cut off, your health care provider can find these blood vessels. The catheters are placed into the blood vessel, and an x-ray is taken to determine the final position. Once the catheters are in the right position, they are held in place with silk thread. Sometimes, the catheters are taped to the baby's belly area.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF UMBILICAL CATHETERS?
Interruption of the blood flow to an organ (intestines, kidney, liver) or limb (leg or rear end)
Blood clot along the catheter
Blood flow and blood clot problems can be life threatening and require removal of the UAC. The NICU nurses carefully monitor your baby for these possible problems.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.