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Spiritual care in neonatology: analysis of emergency baptisms in an Irish neonatal unit over 15 years

Journal title
Irish journal of medical science
Publication year
Caulfield, F. M.; Ihidero, O. A.; Carroll, M.; Dunworth, M.; Hunt, M.; McAuliffe, D.; Philip, R. K.

BACKGROUND: Emergency baptism remains an important emotional and spiritual element for many parents of critically ill infants in the neonatal unit. There is no published data available as to which neonates are baptised and their outcomes. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate trends, outcomes and characteristics of newborn infants baptised over a 15-year period in an Irish maternity hospital. METHODS: Retrospective study of infants baptised in University Maternity Hospital Limerick (UMHL) over a 15-year period. Patients were identified from the ‘register of baptisms’ for the years 2002-2016. RESULTS: A total of 354 neonates were identified and further information was available for 341. We observed a gradual decline of emergency baptisms over the 15-year period. A total of 114 (32.2%) infants were term and 199 (56.2%) preterm. A total of 288 infants (81.5%) were baptised by Catholic priest, 61 (17.3%) by staff member, 1 (0.3%) by family member and in 3 cases (0.9%) the person baptising was unrecorded. Day of baptism varied from 1 to 88 with a mean age of 4.6 days. A total of 113 (31.9%) neonates died after baptism. Majority of infants baptised were preterm and low birth weight, with predominance of extremely low birth weight (ELBW) who also had proportionately higher mortality 47 (47.5%) following the baptism. CONCLUSION: Emergency baptism remains an important element in the spiritual care of the critically ill newborn infants and their families. Maternity hospitals and neonatal units should have access to emergency baptism service or other equivalent ‘spiritual blessings’ as appropriate to the faiths followed by the family, especially in an emerging multi-faith population.

Research abstracts