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Grief associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

The sudden, unexplained death of a previously healthy baby is described as sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS).  It can also be known as cot death. In SIDS, a baby’s death happens out of the blue, and the shock and grief can be intense for parents, remaining children, grandparents and other family members.

The exact cause of SIDS is not known, and the term SIDS is only used when other causes for the death are not found. Not knowing the cause of their child’s death may leave the parents wondering and searching for answers for the rest of their lives.

When a baby dies through SIDS, police undertake an investigation into the circumstances of the death, which usually involves questioning the parents or carer and handing the baby over to the coroner for an autopsy. This process can add to the trauma of the loss, and the subsequent grief experienced by the family.

Factors Affecting Grief After SIDS

  • guilt associated with this type of death may affect the grieving process. Parents and other children often blame themselves and may believe they contributed to the death in some way
  • siblings who loved the baby but may have been jealous or irritated by them may sometimes take on the burden of guilt by inventing a story that they somehow caused the death
  • grandparents may feel distressed at their own child’s pain, as well as the grief of their grandchild’s death
  • a couple’s relationship may come under stress after the death of a child. Men and women, people may express their grief in different ways and this may give rise to misunderstandings
  • parents may experience difficulty in resuming a normal sexual relationship after the death of a child
  • the person who found the deceased child may be left with vivid images and doubts about their response, which may hinder their adjustment to the loss


Each parent and family member will grieve in their own way:

  • if there are any children in the family, it is important to speak with each child 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 respond and react to loss and grief differently to adults
  • support from other family and friends may help the grieving process
  • the belief system of the family may help them makes sense of their grief
  • talking with a GP or a counsellor about what happened may help

Ways Of Remembering

There are many ways people choose to remember their child. It may be comforting to keep photos of the baby and to write down special memories of your time with them. Collecting a box of mementos can be a way for members of a family to honour the baby in their own way. Creating a ritual for special occasions, such as lighting a candle for the baby on birthdays or anniversaries, can be a way of honouring their memory.

Having Another Baby

After the death of a child, parents often choose to have another baby as soon as possible to fill the emptiness and consolidate the family unit.

Counsellors recommend allowing time for grieving before a subsequent pregnancy so that families may adjust to their loss and avoid giving birth close to the anniversary of their child’s death. This is a very personal decision.

Throughout a subsequent pregnancy and first few months after the birth parents may be anxious and require family or professional support.

It will be important for them to discuss any known risk factors for SIDS with a doctor, and to seek support if feelings of anxiety become overwhelming.

Other Resources

SIDS and Kids

Provides bereavement support for individuals and families affected by the sudden unexpected death of a baby or child from conception up to and including age six
Star Bear Program Anglicare Inc

Free weekend camps for bereaved children and young people who have lost a parent, sibling or other significant person
Beyond Blue

Provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.


Page last updated: 29 December, 2021