QUAERITUR: How to do an emergency baptism.

From a reader:

It’s getting close to my wife’s due date, and since her pregnancy is considered high risk, I wanted to be prepared for every condition. If there is a need to preform an emergency baptism at the hospital when my daughter is born, is there an official “rite” that needs to be followed? In an emergency, I’m not sure a priest would be able to make it to the hospital in time so I want to prepare myself in case I would need to baptize her myself. Thanks for your help on this.

First of all, I think the readers here will stop this instant and say a prayer for your wife and child, that everything go well and smoothly.

In case of an emergency, anyone – even a non-believer – can baptize an infant validly.  They must cause water to flow on the head while saying – and it must be the same person – the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  That short form and the pouring of water on the head is all that is needed for valid baptism in an emergency.  Some medical personnel, such as nurses, will often be sensitive during emergencies and will even know what to do.

If the water cannot for some reason be poured on the head, then it can be poured over another part of the body.  If that is the case, however, then there must be a conditional baptism performed if the child survives.

In either case, when the child survives the full rites surrounding the baptism should be celebrated when possible.

However, will all will pray for a perfect and happy outcome.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Seamas O Dalaigh says:

    Praying for this reader, his wife and their child.

    James Daly

  2. digdigby says:

    For some reason this reminds me of the half a dozen and more dads who died in the Joplin tornado protecting their children with their own bodies. (Not to mention the moms). There’s an RIP picture gallery on youtube and some of them can be seen there. You, sir, sound like that kind of dad. I’ve just said a prayer to St. Joseph for you. St. Joseph is GREAT for the really serious dad stuff, but DON’T forget to share the good stuff with him too.

  3. Liz says:


  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    How many megapages could you read elsewhere and not learn this?:

    “If the water cannot for some reason be poured on the head, then it can be poured over another part of the body. If that is the case, however, then there must be a conditional baptism performed if the child survives.”

  5. Random Friar says:

    St. Gerard Majella, pray for us!

  6. eulogos says:

    A friend of mine brought her few days old baby in to see the doctor because he wasn’t doing well and was vomiting. He was found to have a bowel intusucception -not sure of the spelling, but where one part of the bowel collapses inside another part-and needed emergency surgery. She and the friend who had come with her looked at each other and both said “Baptism” at the same moment. She told the doctors she would be just a moment, went into the ladies room and baptized the baby using water from the sink cupped in her hand. Then she turned the baby over to the doctors and called her husband. He did fine. The baptism was not repeated but they did have the rest of the ceremony in church.
    Susan Peterson

  7. APX says:

    @Father Z
    In case of an emergency, anyone […] can baptize an infant validly

    Thanks for clearing this up. Through some random Googling I learned how to do conditional emergency baptisms for stillborn babies (I assumed emergency baptisms were pretty much the same aside from the membrane breaking part), but the instructions were somewhat vague about whether or not I, as a woman, could actually validly do one, as it kept referring to “the husband” and “he” as the person doing the baptizing (sometimes inclusive language is helpful). The odds of me ever having to actually do one is pretty slim, but it’s nice to know that I know how it’s done should I ever have to.

  8. Dorothy says:

    Thank you, Father, for this helpful post. Being of an anxious turn of mind, I’d be reassured to know whether or not the water must be poured constantly while all the words are being said. I have seen priests pour the water three times, as each Person of the Blessed Trinity is named; as I recall, they did not pour it during the words “I baptise you”. [It can be continuous or in three separate pourings.]

  9. jflare says:

    Um, this reminds me: I’ve seen a few occasions in which, literally, late at night, on a lonely highway, I’ve come close to a car accident. I’m not a priest, so obviously I can’t offer last rites.
    Does the Church have some sort of blessing or prayer that I could offer on behalf of a victim should someone be slipping too quickly for a priest to arrive?

  10. 8latinfans says:

    Prayers to this family. Thank goodness other people worry about the faith enough to make sure they know what to do in this case.

    What do you think about a woman in this situation receiving Anointing of the Sick before the birth? I have 6 children, all delivered via c-section, and after the 4th one, many doctors did not want me as their patient because I was considered high risk. I found a supportive Catholic OB/GYN, but also had Anointing of the Sick before the last two deliveries since there was a risk of serious complications/bleeding, etc. from all of the previous surgeries. What do you think about those types of situations?

  11. RichardT says:

    Do you need to give the child a name for the conditional baptism (“N., I baptise you…”)? If not, and the baby survives, how does it formally get its name in the Church’s eyes?

    Also, I’d guess the father then needs to get the baptism registered afterwards? And should that be at the family’s home parish or at the parish in which the hospital sits?

  12. RichardT says:

    One thing to watch out for, which caught me out with one of my children – things were quite bad, so the baby was in an incubator and off to intensive care before I had a chance. It might be worth talking to one of the medical team about baptism beforehand.

  13. RichardT says:

    Sorry, in my previous comment I meant “emergency baptism” not “conditional baptism”.

  14. As the father of 8, my thoughts and prayers go out to this family.

    BTW, I know of cases in which ER nurses have actually prepared syringes with sterilized water just in case an emergency baptism is needed.

  15. Bryan Boyle says:

    Don’t overthink it…:) Father’s instructions are clear and simple. In an emergency…just do it…;)

    (And….don’t think nurses and ER folk are not sensitive to beliefs…I had an obviously Jewish nurse (Miriam Something-baum in Princeton NJ) ask, while I was being prepped for emergency surgery 2 years ago, when she saw the crucifix around my neck (because she had to move it to swab my chest with the betadine…) if I wanted a priest to come for the sacrament of the sick…

    I think sometimes we Catholics are so concerned with making sure the linens are tucked in nicely and so forth. Just do it. As we used to say at ABC Radio “we’ll fix it in the edit room”. Same here.

  16. Tina in Ashburn says:

    As far as baptizing the stillborn, we do not know when the soul leaves the body at death. Baptize anyway. The same goes for Extreme Unction – even if a priest arrived after apparent death, he would do what he could, as my 90-plus mother recalls from back in the day.

    Prayers for a happy birth!

  17. Kris says:

    So, if the emergency baptism is performed, the rest of the normal rites are celebrated?
    i.e. The rite of baptism is celebrated, but skipping the baptism at that part?
    This is what made sense to me, but I’ve always seen the clergy baptize again (although not knowing if it was conditional or not).

  18. Brooklyn says:

    My prayers are definitely with this family. I think one of the things I liked best about this question is that this father definitely believes in the teachings of the church, that there is such a thing as original sin. So many “catholics”, including priests, put so little emphasis on this. People will wait months or even a year before baptizing their children because they want to have a big party with everyone present. This shows an obvious disregard for the concept of original sin. Why would you want to leave your child cut off from God all that time?

    God bless this family. I am sure St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother are carefully watching over you.

  19. Volanges says:

    RichardT, no, a name is not necessary but use it if you know it. The baptism should be reported ASAP to the parents’ parish. In some places the hospital is linked to a specific parish. Our regional children’s hospital, for example, though not Catholic is linked to a parish where all emergency baptisms are registered. The information is then forwarded to the parish where the child’s parents reside. Included in the information is whether or not all the rites were included.

    I was dismayed to learn in recent years that in our local hospital, contrary to the way I was trained in nursing school, a sick child’s emergency baptism is not recorded in the chart. I know for a fact that in some cases that was the only existing record of the baptism. One case springs to mind: our friends’ son was born at 30 weeks and died within 12 hours because weather prevented a medevac to a neonatal unit. When I came on shift a few hours after the birth my first question was whether or not he’d been baptized. I was assured that, yes, Fr. C. had been in and baptized him shortly after his birth. Fast forward 23 years and many moves and I’m now working as parish secretary in the same town. I get a call from a priest across the country inquiring about a certificate of baptism. I recognize the parents’ name, and ask if he’s referring to Christopher who had only lived for a few hours. The priest is surprised but I explain my career change and my memory of the baby’s birth. Unfortunately, the baptism had not been entered into our parish’s register, although it was our former Pastor who baptized him. The parents were military so the possibility existed that it had been registered in the military parish but the priest assured me that, no, they’d gone that route and there was no record there. All I could suggest was that the mother request her chart from the hospital. With that info we could enter the baptism in the parish records and issue a certificate to these parents who had nothing of this child but memories. They couldn’t even get a birth certificate because he hadn’t lived 24 hours and was considered a stillbirth — something I found abhorrent. I don’t know if they pursued it any further.

  20. pfreddys says:

    Doctors are always giving the most horrible news always, perhaps because they are legally constrainted to do so……..I was supposed to give birth to a downs-syndrome baby and instead am seeing my daughter go to Catholic high school on a schlorship….WHAT A MIGHTY PERSONS IS THE ALLMIGHTY!!! Please pray for Jennie, Father part of the reason I insisted she take Latin is…..YOU!!!!

  21. Fr. W says:

    Question: When I am called to baptize a baby at the hospital who is in serious danger of death, the question is, does one only baptize or also impose Confirmation? I have had mixed opinions on this. If it were my niece or nephew, and this might be the end for them, I would be inclined to Confirm them also.

  22. Volanges says:

    Fr. W. I know that one of the pastoral notes in the Rite of Baptism of Infants say that if it’s possible infants baptized in an emergency are to be confirmed at the same time but based on the entries in our parish registers it’s not being done. I don’t know why priests seem to shy away from doing this.

  23. APX says:


    People will wait months or even a year before baptizing their children because they want to have a big party with everyone present. This shows an obvious disregard for the concept of original sin. Why would you want to leave your child cut off from God all that time?

    It isn’t always the parents’ fault for long baptism waits. My diocese is terrible for timely baptisms after birth because the churches here do mass group baptisms outside of Mass on a Saturday afternoon and it’s only done twice a year unless there’s an emergency. They’re usually done around the end of April or May depending on when Easter was and then again in October. You get a baby born in October the week after they do baptisms and you’re waiting around 7 months.

    The only baptism I was ever at in my diocese that happened right after birth was my cousins’ first child’s baptism, and that only happened because she was born out of wedlock and a private baptism was required. They didn’t have to wait for the group.

  24. irishgirl says:

    I am a twin, and when my sister and I were born (57 years ago this coming Sunday), we were premature. I remember my mother told us that the Catholic doctor who delivered us (and was our family doctor for many years) baptized us conditionally in the delivery room.
    Then our parish priest came to do part of the baptismal rite at our house-we were still too small to be taken outside-and a little later on when we were stronger, it was completed at church.
    But prayers for this family, that all will be well!

  25. We Catholics here in Oklahoma are the minority. I have a Catholic friend who is a pediatric nurse in a hospital. Could she baptize a baby that is in jeopardy of dying, (a) without the parents’ consent and (b) if the parents aren’t Catholic?

  26. digdigby says:

    “People will wait months or even a year before baptizing their children…waiting for just the right time.”
    Leave that to Michael Corleone.

  27. Papabile says:

    If one is baptizing a stillborn, one should do so conditionally.

    The formula would be “If you are alive, I baptize you, In the name of the father…. ” etc

    There are also specific forms for baptizing those with extra limbs/heads should conjoined children, etc. be born. [I would note that in the preconciliar manuals these are called “monstors” or “monstrosities”, but that’s due to the translation of theological language at that time. It does not indicate a disgust for these children. ]

  28. ReginaMarie says:

    Prayers for you, your wife & precious child. I love this prayer & always pray it for friends I know who are expecting:
    O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, begotten of the Father before all ages yet willing to dwell in the womb of the All-Pure Virgin Mary: be ready with Your choicest blessings for this child dwelling in the womb of Your handmaid ______. Protect and bless + her and the child she carries, and grant them health and strength unto an easy birth-giving, for You are the merciful Lover of Mankind.
    O Blessed Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, we consecrate to you today this child in the womb of your handmaid ______. Through your maternal intercession, preserve this child from every harm, from every hostile rage, and from evil spirits by day and by night. Obtain for this child bright shining angels to enfold and cherish it, guarding it from every assault of the evil demons and from all sickness and infirmity of body and soul.
    Holy Mother, who are entrusted by God with the care of His little ones, this child now belongs to you. Therefore we pray that you lift up this child into the light of His countenance, that the child may always be signed with the Cross of your Son, in its heart and understanding; that the child may flee the vanity of this world and every evil device of the enemy, and follow God’s commandments, living the Truth in Love. We beseech you to intercede that the name of the Lord Jesus may always remain unrenounced upon this little one. At a fitting time may this child be joined to the Holy Catholic Church and be perfected through the awesome Mysteries of Christ, and attain unto the blessedness of the elect in the Kingdom of Heaven.
    Keep this child ever close to your Immaculate Heart, surrounded and nourished by your motherly love. Take this little one as your own special charge; teach the child all the ways of righteousness, that it prefer nothing to God’s will, giving thanks to Him always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let your designs for this child be known at the proper time, and arrange everything for the glory of God, so that one day this child, and all of us your faithful children, will join you in the joy of Heaven.
    And may the blessing of the Lord + be henceforth and forevermore upon this child, through the grace, mercy, and loving-kindness of His only-begotten Son, with whom He is blessed together with His all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

  29. Papabile says:

    This is from the Rituale:

    Baptism of Children

    19. In regard to baptism:

    (a) classed as children or infants are such who have not yet attained the use of reason, and likewise the feeble-minded from infancy, no matter what their age;

    (b) reckoned as adults are all who have the use of reason; and to be admitted to baptism it suffices that an adult requests it of his own accord.

    20. No child is to be baptized while still enclosed in the mother’s womb, as long as there is a probable hope that it can be properly brought forth and then baptized. If only the head of the child has come forth and there is danger of its dying, it should be baptized on the head; if afterward it is born and lives, baptism may not be repeated conditionally. If another member of the body makes its appearance and there is danger of death, the baptism should be conferred conditionally upon that member; if the child lives after birth it must be rebaptized conditionally. Should a mother die in confinement, the fetus should be extracted by those obliged thereto by their profession, and if there is a certainty that it lives, it should be baptized absolutely, otherwise conditionally. A fetus baptized while in the mother’s womb must be rebaptized conditionally after birth.

    21. One should see to it that every abortive fetus, no matter of what period, be baptized absolutely if it is certainly alive. If there is doubt about its being alive, it should be baptized conditionally.

    22. A monster or abnormal fetus should in every case be baptized at least with the following expressed condition: If you are a human being, I baptize you, etc. When in doubt as to whether there is one or several persons in the deformed mass, one part is to be baptized absolutely, and the others each with the condition: If you are not baptized, I baptize you, etc.

    23. Foundlings should be baptized conditionally, unless there is a certainty from due investigation that they have already been baptized.

    24. An infant of infidel parents may be baptized lawfully even though the parents are opposed, provided that its life is in such danger that one can reasonably foresee it may die before attaining the use of reason. Outside the case of danger of death, it may lawfully be baptized, provided its Catholic rearing is guaranteed, as in the following two cases: (a) if parents or guardians or at least one of them consent; (b) if parents, i.e., father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, or guardians do not exist, or if they have lost their right over the child or are unable to exercise it.

    25. Generally, the norms stated in the preceding rubric are to be applied to baptism of infants whose parents belong to a heretical or schismatic sect, or of Catholic parents who have lapsed into apostasy, heresy, or schism.

  30. Dr. Eric says:

    My son was at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis for the first 3 weeks of his life. As soon as I could get my hands on him, I baptized him. We had a conditional baptism later as I didn’t have this post to check what I did against it. I drizzled water on his head: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father (drizzle) and of the Son (drizzle) and of the Holy Ghost (drizzle).”

    I am proud to say that he’s almost 6 and in perfect health now, which I credit to the Anointing that Fr. Sid gave him when we lived in Indianapolis.

  31. Dr. Eric says:

    I forgot to mention that I offered some prayers through the intercession of St. Gianna Beretta Molla for the family in the post, that the birth proceed smoothly and without incident.

  32. Alice says:

    Maybe the parents don’t want the child confirmed because they want the child to survive and be confirmed in 8th grade (or whatever) with his/her class? Our neighbor had a gravely ill 2 year old in the hospital and, in the heat of the moment, refused Confirmation for him because she didn’t want him to miss out with his class. He survived, but she would laugh at how dumb she had been to deprive him of the graces of the Sacrament. Personally I dislike the whole idea of classes for the Sacraments of Initiation and wish that infants received them all at once, but our custom is what it is.

  33. Volanges says:

    Alice, I don’t think it’s the parents’ decision in this case. I think Fr. just does the Baptism and hopes that the parents will present the child for the completion of the ritual which, unfortunately, most never do.

  34. lucy says:

    I’m a NICU nurse (not currently practicing) and myself and others had to, from time to time, baptise infants before they died without their parents even being there due to distance or some other calamity.

  35. lux_perpetua says:

    regina marie,

    great prayer! i think i will pray that the nights before i go to the abortion clinic… even though it’ seems pretty clear that it’s an EO prayer

    prayers for this family!

    i have a question that i don’t expect to be answered, but i’ve tried other places to find out the answer and have gotten nothing. i was baptized in the Church but later my mother’s mother told her that she was scared that we would be in a plane crash as we flew from england to America. so she baptized me in the kitchen without my mother’s knowledge. assuming she did it properly, i was actually baptized twice. does anything actually negative happen if this happens or is it just not recommended because its superfluous and might bring some to doubt the efficacy of the sacrament?

  36. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Lucy, nurses like you make me smile. You are true guardian angels on earth. <3

    My prayers are with this family. Please let us know of the happy outcome! {hug}

  37. tioedong says:

    when I was in medical school, we were taught how to do this, even the Jewish students, because so many of the mothers were Catholic women. We were taught that we didn’t have to “believe” in it but we should do it for the comfort of the mother.

    I don’t know if in todays’ anti Catholic/anti religion atmosphere that students are taught how to do it in medical school, but then a lot of nurses are Catholic and do it for you.

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