For Families and Friends
The death of a baby is unlike any other. We are often at a loss for words and actions, and believe that it's better to not say anything in the case we may upset someone. However, this seems to have the opposite effect, isolating parents even more in their grief. Below are some suggestions that will help guide you in supporting your loved one, family member, or friend who has endured the death of their baby. Our Remembrance Items and Healing Projects page also has thoughtful and comforting ideas.
- As soon as you know a baby has died or will die, ALWAYS send them to our At the Hospital page - they will thank you for it. We give examples of what other parents have found helpful during this critical time, as you never get it back.
- Navigating the Unknown: An Immediate Guide When Experiencing the Loss of Your Baby should be given to all bereaved parents before or immediately after leaving the hospital.
- Our Center for Healing website has a variety of resources: Family and Friends, Normal Grief Reactions, Remembrance and Healing, and many more.
- Parents need support beyond the first 3 weeks. Do not leave the them alone and isolated (don’t ignore them or “give them space”). Just be there and sit with them. If they have other children, offer to watch them so the parents can have time to grieve alone. Try not to ask “what can I do for you” or “let me know how I can help". They often don’t know what they need and are just trying to survive day-to-day.
- Use the Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Directory to help find support groups, therapists, and psychiatrists that specialize in perinatal loss.
- Still Birth Day has ideas to help you create a special memorial service or funeral.
- Read other parents’ stories: Return to Zero and Reconceiving Loss’s Digital Archive or Three Minus One.
- Still Standing Magazine is a great place for the newly bereaved to read about the experiences of loss from bereaved parents.
- Give InKind is a website service that allows you to support and connect with loved ones during times of crisis or need, allowing you to seamlessly coordinate care, learn specific ways to help, and find the most useful gifts and services for yourself or those you care about.
Suggestions for supporting your loved ones:
- Helpful things to say:
- I am so sorry
- I am at a loss for words
- I don't know what to say right now
- I love you
- There is a connection between you as a mother and your baby that you carried that can never be broken and you will love him/her forever
Learn more about Choosing the Perfect Words of Condolences.
- Arrange for meal delivery, meal gift cards, or grocery gift cards (2-4 weeks after the baby's death is helpful)
- Refer to them as parents - as they are, even if they do not have a living child - and acknowledge them on Mother's and Father's Days
- Make sure to remember, ask about, and care for the father, as he is also grieving
- Ask about the name of the baby
- Ask how the baby died
- Ask to see a photograph of the baby or to describe how the baby looked
- Tell them their baby is beautiful
- Ask them to tell you about their baby
- Be present, listen, and sit with them
- Ask what would feel healing or helpful
- If they have living children, offer to take the children for outings and let the parents have time to grieve alone or together
Birthdays, anniversaries (death, due date, etc.) and holidays are especially difficult. Let the parents know that you are thinking of them and their baby on these special days by practicing thoughtfulness (i.e., card, flowers, small gift, cake, balloons, candle). Be open and accepting of however they choose to celebrate these holidays.
The grieving process is never over and parents are always grateful for your thoughtfulness. Months after the baby has passed away, it can be helpful to continue to send "thinking of you" cards or thoughtful gifts.
Don'ts of speaking with bereaved parents:
- Do not offer cliches
- Do not judge or offer advice
- Do not compare losses
- Do not say:
- Everything happens for a reason
- At least....
- Time heals all wounds
- It's going to be okay
- Let go, move on
- Have faith
- Be thankful
- God has a plan
- Keep busy
- You are young, you can have more children
- Be thankful you have other children
- Your baby would have been very sick if he/she lived