Grief Reactions Associated with Stillbirth and the Death of a Newborn Baby

Pregnant couples usually expect birth to be a joyful event, not a sad one. In a normal situation no-one expects a baby to die. The death of a baby brings many intense feelings.

A pregnant mother protects and nourishes her baby. If the baby dies some mothers can wonder if they “caused” their baby’s death by something they did or perhaps failed to do. However, babies usually die for other reasons. A doctor can help to provide explanations. There are many different reasons for stillbirth and the death of a newborn infant.

Parents often feel a strong desire to talk about their baby. Many want to be with others who have suffered and survived a similar loss. Many bereaved parents seek help from a support group from around 6 weeks or so after their baby’s death. This is because until that time most bereaved parents feel at least some support from their family and friends. However, after a few weeks most family and friends are able to get on with their lives and activities, whereas bereaved parents may feel they cannot get on with theirs.

In the months and years after a baby is stillborn the parents may still note when their baby may have been walking or should have been going to school. Christmas and family birthdays may also be painful reminders of what should have been. Parents may feel particularly sad during these times. It is common for bereaved parents to remember and think about their dead baby for the rest of their lives.

Many bereaved parents will go on to have another baby. Most will endure an anxious pregnancy. It is common for bereaved parents to worry that the subsequent baby will die too, 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 felt during the pregnancy. However, if another pregnancy occurs within twelve months, then parents have to deal 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 the bereaved parents will still grieve for the baby who died.

Mothers may be the focus of concern after the death of a baby but it is important to remember that fathers also suffer. Both parents grieve, but the way they act and feel is not usually the same. Many bereaved parents say their relationship changes after their baby dies. Some find their relationship strengthens as a result of the tragedy, but others drift apart. Couples who say their relationship strengthened are usually couples who freely talk to each other about how they are feeling.

Children also grieve for their baby sister or brother. Most seem to cope. It is common 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 their baby. It is often helpful to encourage children to discuss their baby’s loss both at home and at school.

The baby’s grandparents will also grieve for their grandchild. They often suffer because their child is suffering and grieve because their grandchild is dead. Sometimes relationships in a family become strained after a baby has died. It is helpful to talk through issues before they become problems.

With time, bereaved parents can feel they have been emotionally strengthened by the experience of losing a baby. Many find they understand more about themselves and what they really value. They know they can rely on themselves and where else they can turn when times are tough. 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 in turn grieve. Bereaved parents who are further down the track can often look back and say “I survived when I never thought I would.”

Page last updated 27th July, 2017