Nurture Information Hub
Mothers and Grief
The death of a baby in the first month following birth is a heartbreaking and devastating event.
While everyone reacts differently, many mothers have reported feeling shocked, numb, or in disbelief that their baby has died. Many also feel varying emotions at different times.
Remember that there is no ‘right’ way to grieve. While some mothers will be open with their emotions and want to share their feelings, others may want to grieve in private.
In the hours and days following your baby’s death, you may feel overwhelmed with tasks like spending time with your baby, saying goodbye, registering your baby’s birth and death, and arranging a funeral or memorial. During this time, it can be helpful to follow the support and guidance of healthcare professionals.
Ask your nurse for a Memory Box or contact Miracle Babies Foundation (NurtureConntect button at the bottom of this page) to have one delivered if not available at the hospital. This can help with ideas on making memories and a special place to keep these memories and your baby’s belongings.
At the same time as experiencing your grief, your body may also go through many common changes that women experience after birth. These include breast soreness, milk production, or bleeding. It’s important to remember that your healthcare team can help to support you with your physical and emotional needs.
Returning home without your baby is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. Many mothers have reported feeling alone during this time and as though no one understands their grief. Within society there is often a lack of understanding about infant death that may result in family and friends avoiding talking about your baby, or saying well-meaning but unhelpful things in an attempt to make you feel better. You may need some time alone or just with your partner, or a trusted family member or friend to manage your grief in the early days. However, it is important to try and seek support from family, friends, support groups or other services when you are ready, so that you do not feel isolated or alone.
It can take a long time to cope with your grief after neonatal death, and meeting with other parents who understand your grief may help. Local support groups are available in many areas and it’s never too late to reach out to these for assistance.
It’s normal to feel up and down for some time after your baby’s death. Your grief may resurface at unpredictable times when you least expect it, or at specific times like anniversaries or birth dates. It’s important to try and find a balance between involving yourself in distractions or life tasks, and honouring the emotional impact of your grief by being kind to yourself. You may like to keep mementoes of your baby (e.g., photos, keepsakes) or make a special memorial place to go to (e.g., planting a tree or setting up a memory corner in your home) when you want to spend time thinking about your baby.
You may also find that you and your partner cope with your grief and feelings differently. In research on bereaved parents’ experiences, many couples have reported experiencing difficulties understanding each other’s different coping styles. Some people cope by talking and sharing emotions, and others cope by doing. Both ways of coping are valid and show that each person is grieving in their own way. It’s important to try and talk about and accept any differences, and communicate your needs so you can support each other.
If you are struggling with grief or need support, help is available.
Helplines and useful links:
Miracle Babies Nurture Line
Family support helpline available 24/7: 1300 622 243
Telephone crisis support service available 24/7: 13 11 14
Content authored by: Kate Obst, Dr Melissa Oxlad and Dr Clemence Due from the School of Psychology, University of Adelaide