Baby Loss Support
Our sincerest condolences if you have lost a precious baby. The impact of baby loss is underestimated by anyone who has not endured the experience. There are many organisations set up ready to journey with you to help you through your grief.
This time may seem a complete blur, and it may seem like you have no control over the things that are happening to you and around you. You may have received the tragic news of your baby’s death and now been sent home for some time before coming into the hospital to give birth. You can talk to your midwives about what to expect to help you prepare yourself for the coming days, but here are a few things to consider.
You still have choices about many things to do with your birthing experience – again, these can be discussed with your midwives. If you have made a birth plan and wish to retain elements of it, your midwives will work with you to help you achieve that wherever possible – from water birth, to pain relief, to skin-to-skin, to partner cutting the umbilical cord. You may be offered a tablet to stop your milk coming in – it is your choice whether to accept it. Many mums do want this, some do not. You should be given the chance to discuss options relating to this including the opportunity to express and donate your milk – different things will be right for different parents, and this is still your journey, and you can do what is right for you.
You may feel in time that you would benefit from receiving professional counselling. Your maternity unit may be able to provide a service for you if they have a bereavement midwife. Alternatively you can contact The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy who can help you find a qualified counsellor in your area, or Cruse Bereavement Care can also help.
If you believe your baby died as a result of negligent care, you can contact AvMA, an independent charity providing free and confidential advice.
Your midwives will help you have the opportunity to make memories with your baby. What memories you may choose to make are entirely your choice. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to go through this experience. You do not have to do everything – or anything – that you’re offered, or you can choose to do everything. You do not have to do everything at once, and you can change your mind. Your midwives will support you in any way they can.
Your hospital should have a Cuddle Cot or cold cot that can help you be able to spend more time with your baby.
You should be offered a memory box by your midwives. Memory boxes are like a starter kit for memory-making, with items inside that can help you capture these moments. If you choose to have one, you may continue to add to it over time or keep items from your pregnancy such as scan photos and your baby’s hospital band.
Here are some of the things you may wish to consider:
- A pair of small teddies. Many parents like their baby to keep one, and the other to come home with them in the memory box. You may wish to give your baby one, and then switch them over before you leave so that you keep that one.
- Inkless prints – prints of your baby’s hands and feet are often a treasured memory, and one that can be used by parents to get other memories made in the future, such as necklaces, cufflinks, or other If you want these, you may want to take part in doing them yourselves, or you may want your midwives to do them for you.
- Clay imprints – like the inkless prints, clay imprints are another memory that you should have the chance to participate in making if you wish, or you may wish for your midwives to do them for you. These are imprints that many parents like as it means they can trace the shape of their baby’s hands and feet with their finger, or put them in a frame – there may be a kit for this in your memory box.
- 3D casts of hands and feet may also be offered to you. Your midwives can take moulds and then connect with charities or casting companies to enable you to have beautiful casts made from the moulds that you can keep.
- Photographs – it can often seem strange at the time to want to have photos taken of or with your baby that has died, but many parents are so incredibly grateful to have these photos to look back on later. You may also wish to have photos taken with siblings or other family members who you choose to have meet your baby. Make sure you have a phone charger with you when you go into hospital. There are photography charities offering free services that your midwives may be able to get in touch with for you.
- A lock of your baby’s hair – your midwives may be able to help you take a lock of your baby’s hair to keep. Your memory box may have a little box in to store this.
- Reading your baby a story – some memory boxes may have a story book in to read to your baby, but if you have a favourite story that you want to read your baby, bring it with you.
- Clothing – if you have favourite outfits that you have got for your baby, pack them and bring them with you. If your baby is being born premature and is going to be too small for any clothes you may have, speak to your midwives – there are charities that provide specialist clothing for premature babies.
- Bathing your baby – if this is something you would like to do, speak to your midwives and get their help.
- Heart in their Hand keyrings – your memory box may contain one of these keyrings – a keyring with a heart cut out to leave in your baby’s hand so that you will be able to remain connected to them. These hearts can also contribute to beautiful photos with your baby. Ask your midwives for more information.
- Creating keepsakes and wearing them or displaying them in the home is a lovely way to remember your baby. Some parents keep a tiny amount of their baby’s ashes so they can have them interred into a piece of jewellery.
You may wish to remember to bring personal effects for yourself/yourselves while you’re in hospital too, such as toothbrushes & toothpaste, sanitary ware, shampoo, changes of clothes, phone chargers, and snacks.
These are just a few things you may wish to consider, but this is absolutely your journey and the decisions are yours.
How to support a friend
All bereaved parents will deal with their loss in different ways. Some parents will initially value time alone to come to terms with their loss whilst others will appreciate company from their friends. If you would like to visit, it is advisable to arrange a convenient time rather than just turn up. Being able to gain control of minor actions is helpful for the healing process. It’s important to remember that mum would have gone through a normal labour and birth, even if she was induced and will be producing milk like any other mum which is very painful and emotional.
Write their birthday in your diary so you don’t forget special anniversaries which your friend will always find extremely difficult even after many years have passed. Their first Christmas without their baby will also be a very emotional time including due dates and Mothers and Fathers day. Bereaved parents are likely to want photos of their baby on display, this is perfectly normal and will give them comfort. If you are not comfortable with seeing them then invite the parent to your house or somewhere neutral, what they do in their own home is their choice.
If you offer to help with something or say that you will call or visit, remember to do so. Some parents find they receive lots of visitors after the first few weeks but then the novelty wears off and others return to their “normal” lives. It can take many months for bereaved parents to work through the shock and trauma of saying goodbye to their child so they will need plenty of on-going support from friends.
If you are pregnant or have a baby yourself, it will be extremely hard for your friend to be around them for the immediate future. It isn’t that a parent is jealous but it is a painful reminder of all they have lost.
Being a bereaved parent is an endless journey with many milestones for them to cross for the rest of their lives. Family occasions are crippling, the missing piece of the jigsaw is very noticeable. If the parents are blessed with other children they will take great comfort from you counting all their children as their complete family. Bereaved parents love all their children equally. Love for a baby starts at conception, it does not stop at death, just as it does not stop when an adult dies.
Acknowledge their loss
If your friend is ready to talk about their baby, use their name and remember them. They are now parents and their baby was a real person, whether they breathed outside the womb or not, being stillborn, means they were still born. Their baby will always be a part of their family so try and include them in the future when talking about how many children they have had. Never be afraid of mentioning their baby at any point in the years to come; you are not reminding them they have lost a baby – they will not have forgotten! You are reminding them you haven’t forgotten either.
Don’t compare the grief of baby loss to any other grief, they are all unique as the relationships are unique. Loss of an unplanned pregnancy does not mean the parents will not grieve – unplanned does mean unwanted nor unloved. Gestation is no marker of grief and how a person reacts at losing a baby at 18 weeks could be very similar to someone losing a baby at term. The journey beyond the point of loss is very similar for everyone, regardless of the circumstances.
There is nothing you can say to ease their pain but your presence and holding their hands will let them know you’re there for them. All parents want is your time to listen. Don’t interrupt them and allow them to go over and over what has happened and for them to cry, don’t try to stop them. Have no fear of showing your own emotions, but not to the point where they feel a need to support you. Respect their wishes. If they would prefer not to receive any flowers, don’t send any. You can also offer to help with shopping if they feel unable to go out, or offer home cooked meals delivered to them. Don’t try and rush your friend to move on. Asking them “When will you return to work?” wont be helpful at all. Understand that this is a life changing experience and they will not be the same person they were before the tragedy.
The Next Pregnancy
Another baby is just that, another unique individual, an extension to their family. It won’t mean that they are over their grief and have forgotten their child who died.
Returning to Work
Finding the courage to return to work can be very difficult. Some people may regard the death of a baby less significant than the death of an older child and therefore expect the parents to be able to move on in a few months but baby loss is a major bereavement and most colleagues will have no idea what they are going through.
Some parents wont feel able to contact their employer to discuss returning to work and their entitlements so it may be helpful for you to contact them. Some parents prefer to return to work part time or work from home initially and you will be able to discuss this with them. Effects of complex grief include exhaustion, inability to sleep, and difficulty concentrating or feeling motivated. Acknowledging this and agreeing for them to do as good a job as they can will ease the pressure and anxiety in returning to work.
Parents will be worried about what to say to their colleagues and perhaps their clients when they return to work. Employers could suggest that they write an email to all staff explaining what has happened including the baby’s name, weight and other details, with a simple statement about how the death has impacted them and how they would like their colleagues to address the situation on their return. This can make the parents return a little less daunting and help colleagues to be supportive.
Grief is a very individual experience. Some parents may want to talk about their baby at work, and others may not. Some parents decide to return to work shortly after their baby’s death whilst others will choose to have a lot of time off. Grief comes in waves therefore the parent may appear to be coping well but then suddenly become very emotional. An anniversary or the news that a colleague is pregnant can trigger a parents grief. Try to reassure them that it is ok to take time away from the work place if they need to do so. You may wish to make a phone available for them in a private place to enable them to speak to a family member or the Sands helpline if they need it. If a colleague is due to bring their new baby in, let them know so they can choose whether to be there or not so they can be in control of the situation.
If the mother becomes pregnant again, both parents will feel very anxious and stressed. Colleagues may assume they must feel happy to be having another baby. But a new baby won’t replace the one that died. Each baby is an individual with a permanent place in their hearts and parents will also be terrified of losing this baby too.