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Neonatal Palliative Care: Focus on Life

Neonatal Palliative Care: Life

Focusing on life, and not entirely on death, is a major objective of neonatal palliative care. In addition to addressing any pain or discomfort the newborn may experience, the palliative care team will do what it can to ensure the newborn's life is a positive experience for the parents and siblings.

The team will help plan for the parents to have the opportunity to parent their baby. This could be through cuddling, breast feeding, diapering, or dressing the baby. Some neonatal ICUs teach parents how to massage their newborn to ease pain or discomfort.

Parents and siblings will also have opportunities to make memories with the newborn. The baby's handprints and footprints can oftentimes be made. Locks of hair can be saved. Pictures and videos can be made by professionals trained to photograph newborns in the ICU. Arrangements can sometimes be made to take the baby outdoors or to a peaceful non-medical environment. Religious ceremonies can be carried out by hospital chaplains or clergy brought in by the family.

If the family wishes to take their baby home, the goal of care will be to facilitate the baby's transition home as soon as possible.

Neonatal Palliative Care: Grief and Bereavement

Bereavement support should begin as soon as a baby is diagnosed with a life-threatening condition and will continue after the family has been discharged from the hospital and after a baby has passed away. Among measures palliative caregivers take to support the family in their grief are:

  • Connecting family with social workers, chaplains, grief counselors, and support groups
  • Educating family about the grief process
  • Connecting family with parents who've experienced a similar loss
  • Attending memorial services
  • Staying in touch with the family through cards and phone calls
  • Hosting annual memorials at the hospital

Many parents report finding great comfort in support groups and in continued contact with the hospital and staff.

There may be no greater loss than the loss of a child. Neonatal palliative caregivers help parents make the most of their child's life and support them through their grief.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 01, 2013

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