Coping with grief after neonatal loss
Meeting your bereavement midwife
A bereavement midwife is there to provide physical, psychological and emotional support. They can help you with any decisions you have to make (such as funeral arrangements) or follow-up care. This will be alongside the wider team of obstetricians, chaplains and midwives.
Most NHS hospitals have a bereavement midwife. If your hospital doesn’t, you should still be able to get support from your community midwifery team.
If there is going to be a post-mortem, your midwife will make sure you are given any updates. They can also arrange an appointment for you with a consultant, who can give you the test results. It may take a few weeks after the post-mortem to arrange this appointment because the team will wait for all the results to come back.
You can contact our midwives, who are trained in bereavement support, on our Pregnancy Line. You can call 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) or email us at [email protected]
Read more from Anna, a bereavement specialist midwife at Tommy’s.
If you are the parent that gave birth
Although you may be overwhelmed by emotions, it’s still really important to look after yourself physically.
Your body has been through a challenging experience and it may help to understand what is happening to your body.
You will be offered care from the community midwifery team after you go home. They can support you and answer any questions you have about your physical recovery in the days after your baby's birth.
At Tommy's we often hear from women and men who are bombarded with ads promoting maternity and baby products after loss, which can be really distressing. We've put together some information for how to stop pregnancy ads.
Grief is not just one feeling, but a whole mixture. Every parent will react to the loss of their baby differently. Here are some common feelings bereaved parents have described to us. These are all natural ways of reacting to such a traumatic experience.
Shock is a common symptom of grief and is usually the first reaction to a loss. You may feel like you are in a daze, unable to take anything in or think straight. You may find yourself feeling numb and removed from the world and what is happening around you.
Many parents blame themselves for what happened or think they have failed their baby. This is not true. But it is a powerful emotion. Even if you know that you could not have prevented something, you may blame yourself and be angry with yourself for not being able to stop it happening.
With time, some parents also feel guilty when they start thinking about something other than their baby. They feel as if they’re not honoring their baby or are forgetting them. But you will never forget your baby – they will always be part of you and your life. Being able to accept that you can live your life, be happy again and spend time not thinking about your baby is important. Your baby will always be part of you, even in your happiest future moments.
Feeling angry is a natural part of grief. You might feel angry at the hospital, parents of healthy babies, or others who don’t understand what you’re going through, including friends or family. It will feel incredibly unfair that this has happened to you. You may find yourself asking, why me?
“I don’t think I was angry at anyone specifically for having healthy children there. But I was angry at the universe for taking mine away from me.”
You may find yourself feeling envious, resentful, or find it difficult to be happy for someone else if they are pregnant or have healthy babies.
This can be difficult to cope with, especially if it is affecting important relationships. Try not to be hard on yourself because there are many people who feel the same way.
Frighteningly intense grief
Many parents we have spoken to have talked about the intensity of their grief and pain. Such powerful feelings may appear unexpectedly as you try to process what has happened. Sometimes this can be frightening.
Some mums have said that their arms physically ache to hold their baby. Others have talked about the urge to take the baby from the grave so they can cuddle them again. These feelings might make you think you are losing control. But grief is a natural response to loss and the more significant your loss is, the more intense your grief may be.
“I found I had a deafening internal screaming, ‘where is he?’ almost as though my physical body didn’t know he had died.”
How do I cope with these emotions?
Grieving is a process that takes time. These are some suggestions of things you can do, but it’s important to let yourself grieve in your own way. Try to take it easy on yourself, and deal with each moment and each day as it comes.
Take care of your physical health
Grief can affect your appetite, but it’s important to try at eat well and stay hydrated. Try to avoid using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relieve extreme stress. These can all have a negative effect on your mental health.
A bereavement like this can make you feel exhausted, but grief can make it difficult to sleep. NHS has information about things you can do to try and stay well and get a better night’s sleep.
Try to stay active and get some gentle exercise. Going outside can be hard. Some parents tell us that the world suddenly feels too loud and too bright when you’re grieving. However, many say that getting outdoors in the fresh air and stretching their legs – even just for 5 or 10 minutes – made a difference.
Grief can sometimes cause physical symptoms such as:
- nightmares or disturbed dreams
- heart palpitations (when it feels like your heart is racing)
- being hypersensitive to noise.
Grief can make us pace around, forgetful, unable to concentrate, and lose our confidence. All of these are normal. Because of these difficult feelings and symptoms, you will need to look after yourself more than you would normally.
If you’re worried about any physical symptoms of grief, speak to your GP and see if they can help.
Find ways for you and your partner to support each other
The overwhelming grief after the death of a baby can put even the strongest relationships under pressure. We all grieve differently, and this can be difficult for couples when their baby dies. The more you and your partner talk to each other, the more it can help you both.
Read more about supporting each other after the loss of your baby.
Express how you feel
It may be difficult to cope with the outside world and other people for a while. That is ok. There are still ways to try and process your thoughts. Some people find keeping a diary helpful as a way of expressing how they feel and taking time for themselves. Others draw, paint or blog.
Talk to people with similar experiences
Sometimes it can help to talk to people who have been through the same thing. Tommy's runs a private Facebook support group for anyone who has experienced baby loss.
Ask for support from family and friends
Having family and friends rally round you might be exactly what you need. Other parents find it exhausting and just want to be alone. Be honest with the people around you about what you need (or don’t need) from them.
Do not feel under pressure to have visitors, unless you want company.
You don’t have to talk to people about how you feel. Perhaps they can help by doing practical things, such as:
- making meals
- getting back to people who have sent cards or flowers
- food shopping
- watering the garden/mowing the grass
- taking care of other children you might have.
However, you might want to keep busy with the above. There’s no right or wrong approach.
Share this page with family and friends on how they can give support.
Ask for professional help
You or your partner may need specialist support. Depending on your symptoms, this may include counselling or medication, such as anti-depressants.
Some people have feelings of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder after a baby dies.
It can be hard to know when to ask for help. Speak to your GP about how you feel. They will help you find they right support.
You can also talk to a Tommy’s midwife for free. You can call us from 9am–5pm, Monday to Friday on 0800 0147 800 or you can email at [email protected]
If you feel like you want to harm yourself or feel like you want to die, it’s important to tell someone. This could be a family member, a friend, your GP or your midwife. Help is available now if you need it. You can call the Samaritans at any time of day or night on 116 123.
Referring yourself for counselling
If you need more support and live in England, you can get free psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on the NHS. You can refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service without a referral from a GP.
Cruse Bereavement Care also have a local bereavement services directory, with some regions providing grief counselling.
More support and information
- Child Bereavement UK provides specialised support, information and training for everyone affected when a baby or child dies, or when a child is bereaved. It also runs an online forum for bereaved parents.
- The Compassionate Friends is run by and for all bereaved parents.
- Cruse Bereavement Care provides support, information, advice, education and training to help anyone who's been bereaved to understand their grief and cope with their loss.
- The Lullaby Trust provides specialist support for anyone after the sudden death of an infant.
- Petals provides specialist counselling after baby loss.
- Sands is run by and for parents whose baby has died, either at birth or shortly afterwards.
- Winston’s Wish supports children and families after a parent, brother or sister has died.
Royal College of Psychiatrists. Coping after a traumatic event. https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/coping-after-a-traumatic-event
NHS. Stress. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/feelings-symptoms-behaviours/feelings-and-symptoms/stress/ (Page last reviewed: 15 October 2019. Next review due: 15 October 2022) Accessed: September 2021
NHS. What happens if your unborn baby dies. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stillbirth/what-happens/ (Page last reviewed: 16 March 2021 Next review due 16 March 2024)