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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, sometimes known as cot death. It happens out of the blue and the shock and grief can be intense for parents, remaining children, grandparents and other members of the family.

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 death may leave the parents wondering and searching for an answer for the rest of their lives. Police involvement,  questioning of the parents or carer and the handing over of the baby to the coroner for autopsy may add considerably to the trauma of the event and the subsequent grief.

Factors Affecting Grief

  • guilt associated with this type of death may affect the grief process. Parents and other children often blame themselves and may believe they contributed to the death in some way
  • mothers often believe they may have failed to nurture their baby and fathers may feel they have not protected the family
  • siblings who loved their brother or sister but may have been jealous or irritated by the baby sometimes take on the burden of guilt by inventing ways of how they caused the death
  • grandparents may feel the distress of their own child and relatives as well as the pain of the death of their grandchild
  • a couple’s relationship may come under stress after the death of a child. Men and women often 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 have been involved in emergency procedures could be left with vivid images and doubts about their responses, which may hinder their adjustment

Grieving

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 also respond and react to loss and grief differently
  • support by other family and friends may help the grieving process
  • the belief system of the family may help with grieving
  • talking with your GP or a counsellor about what happened may help

Ways Of Remembering

There are may ways people choose to remember their child:

  • there will usually be photos to keep and writing down memories may be a help
  • making something in remembrance of your child, such as a special box of mementos. Including siblings in this activity can help them too. Siblings, as with parents, may have different ways they would like to remember their brother or sister
  • creating a ritual for special occasions for example, lighting a candle on birthdays and anniversaries is helpful for some people

Having Another Baby

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

Counselors recommend time for grieving before a subsequent pregnancy so families may adjust to their loss and avoid giving birth close to the anniversary of their child’s death.

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

It would be important to discuss any known risk factors for SIDS with a doctor.

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