Helping parents whose baby has died

KEY POINTS

  • If you have friends or family whose baby has died, understanding your own feelings about the death may help you be supportive to the parents.

  • Grieving parents may need different kinds of help at different times. Ask them exactly what you can do to help.

  • Ask both parents how they’re doing.

  • Think about how the words you say may make parents feel. Sometimes it’s OK to just be with them and not say anything.

How does the baby’s death make you feel?

If you have friends or family whose baby has died, their baby’s death may affect you, too. To be able to support the parents, try to understand your own feelings. For example:

  • You may feel very sad and reminded about losses in your own life. You may wonder how you can help the parents if you feel so sad yourself.
  • You may wish the parents would hide their sadness from you and pretend everything’s OK.
  • You may feel helpless or worried. Can you really do anything to make the parents feel better? Could the same thing happen to you and your baby?
  • You may feel angry and want to blame someone. Could someone have done something to keep the baby from dying?
  • You may feel cheated because you were looking forward to spending time with the baby and being part of his life.
  • You may feel confused and have a lot of questions. What happened to make the baby die?
  • You may feel numb and not want to think about the baby’s death at all.

There’s no right or wrong way to feel. By understanding how you feel yourself, you can better support the grieving family.

What do you say to grieving parents?

It’s hard to know exactly what to say to parents whose baby has died. You may have never gone through something so sad or painful in your own life. You may not be sure how the parents feel or what may help them. When you’re talking to parents:

  • Be simple: “I’m sorry for your loss.”
  • Be honest: “I don’t know what to say. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
  • Be comforting: “I care about you and your family. Please tell me what I can do to help.”

Don’t forget about dad. A grieving father may feel left out of all the support his partner is getting. Friends and family may ask him about his partner but not about how he’s doing. Be sure to include him as a grieving parent.

Are there things you shouldn’t say to grieving parents?

Yes. You may think you’re being helpful, but some words may not be helpful and may actually be hurtful to parents. Unless you’ve lost your own baby, you probably don’t understand exactly how they’re feeling. Here are things not to say to grieving parents:

  • “You’ll get over it in time.”
  •  “It’s for the best.”
  • “You can always have another baby.”
  • “Count your blessings.”

If you can’t find the right words, it’s OK to say nothing. Sometimes just being there to listen and hold a hand is all a parent needs. You don’t always have to find the perfect words to say.

How can you help parents after the death of their baby?

The parents may need lots of comfort and support from friends and family to help them during this painful time. Here are some things you can do to help parents as they grieve:

  • Be patient. It may take a long time for parents to return to their usual activities. There’s no right or wrong time to grieve. Each person is different.
  • Listen when they want to share their feelings. Let them tell you what happened to their baby as often as they want.
  • Ask the parents if it’s OK to use the baby’s name. Hearing the baby’s name may be comforting to them.
  • Ask exactly what you can do to help. Can you cook dinner for them, clean up the house, run errands or take care of older children? Are there baby or other personal things at the hospital that you can pick up for them? Can you return unused maternity clothes or baby things to the store? Would they like you to tell others about the baby’s death? This may be helpful so they don’t have to tell what happened so often. Parents may need different kinds of help at different times as they grieve.
  • Go to the baby’s funeral or memorial service. Remember that certain times of the year may be hard for the parents. These include holidays, the baby’s due date, the baby’s birthday and the anniversary of the baby’s death. Call, email or send a card to let the parents know you’re thinking of them.
  • Understand if the parents aren’t happy or excited about other people’s pregnancies or the birth of other people’s babies.
  • Encourage them to visit Share Your Story, the March of Dimes online community where parents who have lost a baby can talk to and share experiences with each other. You also can order our booklet From hurt to healing and share it with parents. It has information and resources in it that may be helpful to parents as they grieve.

More information

Last reviewed: October, 2017