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Having a baby with health problems at birth

6-minute read

Key facts

  • There are many things that can cause health problems in a newborn baby.
  • After birth, your baby may need to go to the special care nursery or neonatal intensive care unit.
  • You may find talking with a social worker or counsellor helpful.
  • Ask your midwife or doctor to put you in touch with community organisations and support groups.

Why does my baby have health problems?

If your baby has a health problem, you may want to know:

  • why this happened
  • how to stop it happening in other children

Your baby’s health problems may have happened due to:

Often, it’s not know what causes a health problem.

If you are worried about health problems in any future children you may have, you can talk with a genetic counsellor.

What happens after my baby is born?

If your baby has a health problem, they may need to go to the special care nursery or neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Your baby will be cared for by a paediatrician (that’s a doctor who cares for babies and children).

If your hospital doesn’t have the facilities to care for your baby, they may go to a different hospital. This can be by road or by air, depending on where you live. Sometimes it’s possible for you or your partner to travel with your baby to the new hospital.

Your baby may need to stay in hospital after you have gone home. Some babies need to stay a few hours while others will need a longer stay. This will depend on your baby’s health problem.

Getting to know my baby

It’s important that you and your baby get to know each other. You should try to do this as soon as possible after the birth. You should ask your doctor or midwife if you will be able to cuddle your baby in the delivery room. This is becoming more common even in babies who need surgery after birth.

Kangaroo care lets you have skin to skin contact with your baby. This has a positive effect on babies’ health. It can also help with breastfeeding for when your baby is well enough.

You may wish to express breastmilk until your baby is well enough to feed from your breast. Hospital staff can help you do this.

You may hesitate to touch and handle your baby at first if they are unwell. The hospital staff will understand your feelings and try to support you.

Caring for a newborn baby can be immensely rewarding and also challenging. If your newborn baby has health problems, it can be more difficult.

How can I find out more about my baby’s diagnosis?

You may want to learn more about your baby’s condition. You can ask your doctor or midwife to suggest reliable support groups. This will help you take part in their care and treatment.

It’s normal to find it difficult to understand everything that doctors and nurses say. You can always ask for the information again.

You may find it helpful to:

  • get a friend or family member to come with you to appointments
  • take a pen and paper and make notes

There is lots to learn about your baby’s condition. They may need additional care. There will be plenty of support to guide you during the early weeks after birth.

Where can I get help and support?

You may know before your baby is born that they will have a health problem. Or you may find out when they’re born or in the first weeks or months of your baby’s life.

Whether the news comes before or after the birth, you may have feelings that are hard to cope with.

Grief, anger and disbelief are natural feelings at this time.

You may go through a period when you grieve for the healthy baby you were expecting. This is normal. Before the diagnosis, you may have thought about life with your new baby. Depending on your baby’s diagnosis, these thoughts about the future may have changed. You may find grief counselling helpful at this time.

Talking to your midwife, doctor, hospital staff, social worker or counsellor may help. This can be a very stressful time for parents.

Many parents, especially mothers, are worried that they are somehow to blame for the health problem — but this is unlikely.

Where can I get more information?

You may find it helpful to get support. Having a strong support system will help you cope with some of the challenges ahead.

Talking to parents of babies and children with the same condition can also help.

Ask your midwife, doctor, hospital or community health centre to put you in touch with community organisations or support groups. These organisations can supply information and support for you and your family.

You can visit the Australian Birth Defect Society webpage.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2022

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