The birth of a baby is expected to be a joyful event, and the time leading up to it is full of hope and expectation. .No-one expects a baby to die and so a stillbirth or the death of a newborn can result in intense feelings of shock and grief.
Factors Affecting How People Grieve a Stillbirth or Death of a newborn
- there are many different reasons for stillbirth or the death of a newborn infant. If a family has experienced a similar outcome before, if there are unexpected congenital abnormalities, or if a stillbirth was caused by a traumatic event, feelings of grief may be intensified
- in cases where the coroner is involved and an autopsy is required, the trauma of these processes may add to the grief experienced
- parents often blame themselves and may feel guilty that they have contributed to the death in some way
- children will also grieve for their baby sister or brother. Children who have felt jealous of the new baby can sometimes take on a burden of guilt by inventing a story that they somehow caused the death
Where possible, time spent with the baby immediately after death may be very helpful for parents. In most settings, this is now recognised and supported and can allow time for parents to create memories such as taking a lock of hair, a photograph or a handprint.
Other things that have been found helpful include:
- writing down memories of your child as a permanent record
- creating a box of mementos, and helping siblings to create their own if they wish
- creating a ritual for special occasions, for example lighting a candle for the baby on birthdays and anniversaries
Parents often feel a strong desire to talk about their baby. Support from other family members and friends will be important. Many want to be with others who have suffered and survived a similar loss and may seek help from a support group after their baby’s death.
Mothers may be the focus of concern after the death of a baby, but it is important to remember that fathers grieve too, although the availability of support may not be the same. Many bereaved parents say their relationship changes after their baby dies, and many experience difficulty in resuming a normal sexual relationship. Some find their relationship strengthens as a result of the tragedy, while others drift apart. Couples who report a strengthening of their relationship after losing a baby are usually those who talk freely to each other about their grief experience.
Some parents may find comfort in their religion after a baby’s death and draw support from their faith community.
It is important to speak with any siblings of the baby and allow them to work through their grief and memories in their own way and time. It is helpful to remember that young children and adolescents may also respond and react to loss and grief differently.
It may be helpful to include the baby’s brother or sister when visiting the baby in hospital and going to the funeral. Children usually like to talk about the baby who has died. It is often helpful to encourage children to discuss their baby’s loss both at home and at school with supportive friends and trusted adults.
The baby’s grandparents may also grieve for their grandchild. They often suffer because their child is suffering, as well as grieving because their grandchild has died. Sometimes relationships in a family become strained after a stillbirth or death of a newborn. It is helpful to talk through issues before they become problems.
Remembering The Baby
In the months and years after a stillbirth or infant death the parents may still note when their baby may have been walking or should have been going to school. Religious feasts and family birthdays or other anniversaries may also be painful reminders of what should have been, and parents may feel intense grief at these times. Family and friends can be strong supporters to the parents at these key moments. It is common for bereaved parents to remember and think about the baby they have lost for the rest of their lives.
Having Another Baby
Many bereaved parents will go on to have another baby. Most will endure an anxious pregnancy, worrying they might lose another child either during pregnancy or infancy. The length of time between the death of their baby and the next pregnancy does not appear to affect the level of anxiety expectant parents feel. However, if another pregnancy occurs within twelve months, then parents may have to cope with an active grieving phase as well as anxiety caused by the next pregnancy. It is very common for family and friends of the bereaved to believe that all is well once a new baby is born, but bereaved parents will continue to grieve for the baby they have lost.
With time, some bereaved parents may find they understand more about themselves and what they really value. Some find new friendships and understanding amongst other bereaved parents. Many no longer take what they have for granted and are more sensitive to their family and friends when they experience loss. Bereaved parents who are further down the track can often look back and say “I survived when I never thought I would.”
24/7 bereavement support line and information for those who have experienced pregnancy loss
Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Information about supporting children through grief
Provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.
The Compassionate Friends South Australia
Offering friendship and understanding to families following the death of a son or daughter, brother or sister.
National Twin Loss Support
Bereavement care and education for medical professionals ,and those who have lost a twin (or higher order multiple) child or sibling
Page last updated: 29 December, 2021