How do you handle death?

Specialties NICU


Hi, one of the possible areas I am interested in happens to be the NICU besides PEDS and Labor/delivery/postpartum after I graduate next May (03). My question for NICU nurses happens to be one that I often worry about. I know the NICU will not always be a happy place. How do you handle and deal with death of a baby? How do you handle the parents and comfort them? Do you all go through a special grieving course that specifically trains you how to handle this and help the parents through a very difficult time for them. I worked in a NICU over the summer for about a month and I left but now I left I miss it and I feel that If I miss it as much as I do then it may be the area for me especially since it is really interesting. The only fear I have is death. I don't want to allow that to stop me. I have never lost someone so dear to me in my heart so I really don't know what it feels like either and maybe that is also part of the reason why I fear death but also because of worrying about how will I be able to serve the parents in their time of need.



89 Posts

Every one copes in a different way

For me I put my self in there shoes think how I would feel and go from there. I want to do the imposible and ease their pain the hardest thing is knowing I can't. Most people seem to think we have alot of deaths but on out Unit (Level III 25 beds total) we average 8 a year. It's something you never get used to (and god help me if I ever do and make me take up another job) I think you just learn how to help better. I've been here 8 years now and it still gets to me with every child I loose.

I give parents options like to do they want ie. me there or not, to have baby christened (or what ever is culturally apropriate) , use of a phone to contact family and friends, privacy and flexibility for visitors, to hold, wash and dress baby, camera and film to take photo's, Foot and hand prints, hair (It's always best to get premission first esp if cutting hair but I have put hand and footprints and photo in notes of baby without asking then Mum was ventilated and Dad too stressed to make ant choices) Have even had parents take dead baby to the park in a pram and home.

Dont be afraid to show you care hand on shoulder , hug if you feel apropriate, and tears (as long as you don't break down too you are after all suposed to be there for the parents) but most parents appreciate were not made of stone. Actions speek louder than words but even the "wrong" word is better than nothing.

On out unit we often try to have a debriefing after traumatic events (sudden deaths, large no. in short time, death of a long termer) and also go to the funeral.

We try to support each other senior staff try to support juniors but its not always pos (sometimes personal issues get in the way) we also have a "clinical psycologest" attached to the unit and access to counseling if required.

Most of us will go out together and talk cry, go home shout at hubby kick the cat etc there are special courses in the Uk (I expect in the US too but I dont know) there are lots of articles in Neonatal journals (both UK and US ones wrote essay on it last year) most of us work ion intuition like we do for alot of things.

Has this helped of is it just woffle



127 Posts

my mother in law works in nicu and she said it is something that comes with the job. Not that she gets use to it, but that having death to think about, with a small child being hooked up to machines and tubes, it makes her work harder to help them survive a life outside of all of that. good luck


202 Posts

Handling a dealth in the NICU is very difficult for everyone involved. Thankfully, it doesn't happen that often. One thing about caring for patients on the NICU and OB floors is that "When it's happy, it's as happy as happy can be... and when it's sad, it's about as sad a time as you've ever known."

I've had a husband pass over and feel that helped me to understand the loss of a loved one very well. There is, however, nothing that can compare to the loss of a child. My former Mother-In-Law still grieves more than I do and Michael died 14 years ago on September 3rd. I'm sure the parents of premies count the years for the rest of their lives... thinking to themselves things like, "Our baby would be 5 years old now, starting kindergarten." It's truly heartbreaking.

I'd suggest reading as much as you can about death and grieving. There are lots of books on the subject. Get in touch with yourself spiritually so you can ground yourself in some type of belief that makes you strong and able to cope with the losses when they come. Reading these books will also help you to be able to find ways to help assist the parents and family members of the babies to begin grieving their loss too.

As nurses we cling to one another at times like that. We cry together, hug each other, and ventillate our feelings. Many times we are aware of the baby's physical limitations and what a difficult life that would have been ahead for them and their parents. When that is the case, it makes it a bit easier for me to say goodbye to the baby. Our unit also has had a few special meetings to include our hospital's chaplain and a few counsellors to help us when we have an especially difficult case or several cases in a short period. Any manager worth her/his weight will recognize the need and see to it that such a meeting is held when needed.

It's never easy. Hopefully you will have a good preceptor to show you the ropes.

Best wishes for an enjoyable and satisfying career!


89 Posts

My baby would have been 10 this year , born at 20 wks she didn't have a chance. I see a friends daughter who would have been 6 months younger had Olga gone to term and Its hard.

I wonder what she would have looked like, how she would be doing at school it's all unanswerable questions and some times the pain's as real as the day I went into labour.


202 Posts

Oh KarenElizabeth! I'm sending you a big cyber-hug!!



For you and your sweet angel Olga!

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