this study aimed to understand the meaning of the nursing team's communication with newborns and families during care delivered in a neonatal unit and also to develop a theoretical model. symbolic interactionism and hargie's model were used as theoretical and grounded theory as the methodological reference framework. the study was carried out at the nursery of a hospital in s？o paulo, sp, brazil. the study sample was composed of three nurses and four nursing auxiliaries. the theoretical model being mediated by the strength of motivation was based on findings and revealed the role the nursing professionals' motivation played during interactions with newborns and families. the conclusion is that more humanized interactions with newborns and families result from the nursing professionals' motivation.