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When a child dies

There’s a feeling that children aren’t meant to die. That feeling adds great shock (as well as maybe anger, bewilderment, even a kind of guilt) to the enormous grief and sadness brought by death. The grief, sadness and other feelings are important to you. They’re not to be set aside quickly or hidden away.

You need to let yourself grieve in your own way. If you need to cry, don’t hold back the tears. Crying may be the only way of letting out your feelings. If you feel angry, as many parents do, or find you’re blaming yourself or others, it’s important to talk about it.

Ask the questions you want to ask of, for example, hospital staff, your GP, midwife, or health visitor. Often the reasons for a baby’s death are never known, not even after a post- mortem. But you need to find out all you can.

After the first shock, it may help you to think about ways of remembering your child. If you don’t already have photographs you may want to have a photograph taken to keep. Talk to the hospital about this. Give a lot of thought to any service or ceremony you may want, and to mementoes you may want to keep.

Try to explain what’s happened as simply and honestly as you can to any older children. They need to understand why you’re sad, and will have their own feelings to cope with. Sometimes an older child connects the death with something he or she has done, and may be very quiet, or badly behaved, for a time. It’s not easy for you to give the love and reassurance that’s needed. It may help to get support from others close to your child.

Coping with the outside world and other people is difficult at first. You may find that even people quite close to you don’t know what to say, say the wrong thing, or avoid you. Take the support that’s given and feels right.

It’s best to expect a long time of difficult feelings and ups and downs. Talking may not come easily to you, but even some time after your baby’s death, it can help to talk about your feelings. The more you and your partner can talk to each other, the more it’ll help you both.

A father’s experience of a baby’s death can be different from a mother’s. Although you’ll share a lot, your feelings and moods won’t be the same all the time. Try to listen to each other so you can support each other as best you can.

Sometimes talking to someone outside the family is helpful – a close friend, your doctor, health visitor, hospital staff, maybe a priest or other religious counsellor.

Talking to other parents who’ve been through the same loss and grief can be a special help. You can contact other parents through the following organisations.

  • Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society Run by and for parents whose baby has died either at birth or shortly afterwards.
  • Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths Supports parents bereaved by a cot death or what is called ‘Sudden Infant Death Syndrome’ (SIDS)
  • Compassionate Friends An organisation of, and for, all bereaved parents.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.