Addressing Spiritual Needs of Families with Infants in the NICU

Author: Lauren Frick

When a family undergoes the loss of their newborn, there are certain needs that should be met in order for them to grieve properly. A study was conducted in Isfahan, Iran that evaluated the psychological and spiritual needs of the families of infants in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).

Spirituality is commonly defined as a means to finding purpose and meaning in life. Oftentimes, it is through their children that parents find their purpose in life. Thus, when that opportunity is hindered, parents and families may find themselves in a spiritual crisis. It is up to the healthcare providers in the NICU to provide spiritual support to the grieving families.

The researchers conducted a qualitative study in which they interviewed families, nurses, and physicians who had experienced at least one loss of a newborn in the NICU in the last 6 months. Of the 24 participants, 14 were parents or grandparents and considered part of the nonmedical group, and 10 were healthcare professionals as part of the medical group. The main question asked by the researchers was “what are families’ spiritual needs at the neonate’s end of life in the NICU?”, and the goal was to find common themes of spiritual need.

Three themes of spiritual need were derived: belief in supernatural power, comfort of soul, and human dignity for newborn.  For belief in supernatural power, families utilized religious belief as a source of healing and revival. Parents often had an increase in religious thoughts and practices while their infant was in the NICU. They viewed their situation as an expression of God’s power. An important part of spiritual care on the health professional’s end is to respect the parent’s beliefs and practices as they go through the grieving process. By doing so, the healthcare professionals are fostering an environment that helps comfort the soul.

Comforting the soul provides feelings of hope, peace, understanding, and empathy. The parents want to be hopeful about the fate of their child, whether it be recovery or the ability to see them again in the afterlife. Some parents indicated that they would have liked to communicate with other families going through similar situations in order to not feel alone. Additionally, parents expressed the wish for healthcare professionals to share realistic information but also be empathetic towards their situation.

Lastly, parents wanted their infants in the NICU to be treated with human dignity. Having a proper funeral and ceremony helped them through the grieving process and to feel more at peace with their situation.

By providing families with spiritual support while their child is in the NICU, healthcare professionals are aiding the family in their healing process. With an infant in the NICU, parents often undergo a spiritual struggle, and having knowledgeable healthcare professionals helps to meet their spiritual needs.



Sadeghi, N., Hasanpour, M., Heidarzadeh, M., Alamolhoda, A., & Waldman, E. (2016). Spiritual Needs of Families With Bereavement and Loss of an Infant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management52(1), 35–42. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2015.12.344