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Facing a Prenatal Diagnosis Of a Life-limiting Condition: The 3 C’s of Compassionate Care


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In providing prenatal care, you will occasionally find yourself in the difficult position of delivering devastating news to families.

As a medical professional, delivering a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition can be an emotional experience. We want to support you in caring well for your patients during a difficult time. To do that, let’s review the patient perspective along with 3 tangible aspects of care to consider incorporating into your practice.

The Patient Perspective

Pregnancy, whether uncomplicated, high risk, or resulting in a loss, is an emotional experience. Most women experience an underlying sense of worry or fear during pregnancy. Those feelings are realized in cases of a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition.

From the moment of diagnosis, these families begin to grieve. They grieve the loss of a future, their dreams and expectations, and parts of who they were before. Every first becomes a last. Every opportunity to make memories is a reminder of all the memories that will never be made.

The loss experienced at diagnosis is compounded by losses experienced along each step of the carrying to term journey. Continuing a pregnancy despite a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition is a mess of grieving, anticipating the loss to come, making memories, and fighting for moments of joy.

As the doctor providing care for these families, it is important to consider your patients’ emotional well-being at each prenatal appointment. The quality of prenatal care received can have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on the mental health and the bereavement process for these parents. There are 3 key areas of compassionate prenatal care you can review to support families carrying to term: communication, consistency, and special considerations. 

1. Communication

Families receiving a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis will have many questions and concerns. They need to feel heard, supported, and to gain a clear understanding of what is happening. They will look to you for prenatal counseling attuned to their situation.

Be ready to talk them through the diagnosis, discuss what they may experience, and next steps. It is also helpful to be prepared with tangible resources like brochures, charts, and referrals to organizations like Carrying To Term. Contact us for free brochures to distribute at your practice.

2. Consistency

Pregnancies with a life-limiting condition often require a multidisciplinary approach. Parents may opt to form a care team of doctors, specialists, doulas, and chaplains. As members of a family’s care team, it is critical that you work together to provide consistent support. 

Check in with colleagues frequently to keep care consistent. Don’t add confusion or stress for your patients by delivering differing information, dissenting opinions, or inconsistent recommendations the family must sort through.

3. Special Considerations

Be sure to consider the perspective of these families throughout their patient experience. Each appointment or procedure holds a unique meaning for families facing a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis. Each step deserves special considerations as part of the grieving process.

From providing a separate waiting room, to scheduling more time during appointments, to offering additional ultrasound pictures, you’ll be glad you took a moment to think about the ramifications for families in this situation.

It can be no surprise that parents experience high levels of anxiety and depression following a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition. Families in this situation need support from a knowledgeable, empathetic doctor who will be involved in their ongoing care. As a trusted provider, you can help your patients understand their pregnancy, cope with their feelings, and find their way forward. 

To learn more about post-diagnosis grief, anticipatory grief, and the bereavement period following loss for carrying to term families, see this article.