Going back to work after a neonatal death

Some people find going back to work after their baby has died gives them focus and routine. Others find it more difficult. Take time to work out what’s best for you.

Most of the information on this page is for the parent who gave birth. This is because they will usually take more leave from work and will need to take time to physically recover from the birth

Your rights at work

If your baby has died after birth, you are entitled to full maternity leave, and any maternity pay that you qualify for. You and your partner may also qualify for parental bereavement leave or pay. 

Parents are not entitled to book shared parental leave after the death of their baby. But if you booked shared parental leave before your baby was born, you will still be entitled to take it. 

Find out more about your rights and benefits after a neonatal death.

When to go back to work

Going back to work after losing a baby is a personal choice. It will depend on how you feel and what your circumstances are.

It’s important to take your time to recover emotionally and physically, if you can. Your body has been through a lot and you will need time to recover. It may help to understand what is happening physically, so you can take care of yourself. 

You will always grieve for your baby, but this grief may be at its most intense now. Take as much time as you need to process your feelings. You may even need to spend time getting extra support, such as counselling. Find out more about coping with grief after the loss of a baby.

Of course, most people will need to think about their finances as well as how they feel. Make sure you know what you are entitled to at work. For example, if you need more time before going back to work, you may be able to take some sick leave or annual leave at the end of your maternity leave. 

Some people may want to go back to work sooner. You might see it as a welcome distraction or an opportunity to move forward. If you are employed, talk to your manager if you are thinking of cutting your leave short. You may need to give them some notice. Most employers will allow you to use your KIT (Keeping In Touch) days as a way of testing how it feels to go back. But remember that once you decide to cut your maternity leave and go back to work, you cannot restart your maternity leave later. So it’s best to take your time before deciding exactly what you want to do.

It may help to talk about things with your partner, family or friends. Your GP may also be able to give you some advice. 

"I decided very soon that I needed to be away from my empty home and distracted from my thoughts. I discovered that I needed to give 2 months’ notice to return to work early but thankfully they accommodated me." 

Sarah

Returning to work gradually 

Even if you decide to go back to work, you may feel nervous about it. It might be possible to arrange a gradual return to work, with shorter days or weeks to start off. Or you might be able to have some days working from home. Try speaking to your HR department or line manager to see what options are available at your workplace.

"I ended up taking 8 months off instead of the full year that I had planned. I didn’t rush into the decision but just took a day at a time and slowly started to feel that I might be able to cope with it. My employers were incredibly supportive and allowed me to do a very gradual phased return which made a big difference." 

Kathryn

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working if they have been working for the same employer for at least 26 weeks. Your employer can refuse an application if they have a good business reason.  

“I had days in the first few weeks that I was back that I simply could not get through the entire day. There needs to be a great deal of flexibility to work through this adjustment. I went home at lunch time every day the first week I was back. Sometimes I would just leave an hour early. Other times I would leave after being there for 45 minutes. I was appointed one contact in HR to liaise with and check in with daily, and this was a huge help. She was supportive, kind, understanding and reassuring.”

Heather

Visiting your workplace 

Some people may decide to visit their workplace or meet a few close colleagues for a few hours before they go officially back to work. This may help ease you back into the working environment and make it less overwhelming. 

Communicating in advance

Many colleagues will not know whether to talk to you about your loss. Some people decide to email their colleagues, manager or HR manager to make it clear what they are comfortable with before they go back. This might include whether you’d like people to talk to you about what’s happened or if you’d prefer people not to talk about it.

Some people give details about their baby and what has happened to their family, so they don’t have to tell the story repeatedly. What you choose to share is entirely up to you. 

We have information for friends, family and colleagues that you may find helpful to share with your line manager or HR manager. They may be able to send it around to your team or colleagues, so they understand what’s happened.

Your colleagues’ reactions

It is difficult to understand the grief of losing a baby unless you’ve been through it yourself. Some people know what to say and how to support you, while others are uncomfortable or worry about saying the wrong thing. Some may even say nothing, either because they don’t know what to say or they don’t want to upset you. 

“I had mixed reactions from colleagues. Some hugged me, told me how sorry they were and extended the offer of help any time I needed it. Some either ignored or avoided me, or spoke to me as though nothing had happened. One colleague came up to me with a big smile and said ‘welcome back!’ as though I had been off on my holidays.”

Heather

It is not your job to make other people comfortable. But it may help you to think about how you’d like to manage this so you can prepare yourself emotionally. 

“I have had a few new managers and colleagues and I find it works best to explain what happened or ask a manager to explain on my behalf so that the awful questions don't get asked, which catch me off guard.”

Sarah

Be kind to yourself

You have been through a traumatic experience. It’s natural to feel exhausted or struggle to concentrate at work. You may feel more sensitive than usual, less patient or easily overwhelmed. These suggestions may help:

  • Be realistic. You may not perform as well as you expect yourself to. You don’t have to be perfect all the time, especially now.
  • Do one thing at a time. Trying to multitask may cause more stress.
  • Give yourself short breaks. Try to get away from your workspace when you can, whether it’s to make coffee or go for a walk at lunchtime.
  • Ask your manager for help. Talk to your line manager about setting realistic targets and how you can solve any difficulties you are having. 

You also might notice that grief hits you in waves. You might be fine one day, and then feel overwhelmed the next. Don’t be afraid to take time out in these situations. Go for a walk or talk to your manager about leaving early.

“It was the simple things at work that helped. If I was having a bad day, my colleagues would take me somewhere quiet or offer to cover me so I could go home.” 

Shelley

There may be triggers for your grief. These are things that remind you about what has happened and leave you feeling desperately sad. A colleague might visit during their maternity leave with their baby, or there may be pregnancy announcements. Be gentle on yourself. It’s natural to feel a mix of emotions at these times. If you need to, it’s ok to avoid these situations. 

“The hard thing to explain to people is that you don't know what a trigger for your grief will be, until it happens. I had no idea that going for a hot chocolate on my morning break would make me break down in tears, because I used to go for that break every day when I was pregnant and so seeing the barista at the coffee shop was terrifying. How do you explain to a stranger you saw every day that you lost your baby? Yet when a colleague spoke about their one-year-old daughter, I wasn't upset at all.”

Heather

Choosing not to go back to work

You may choose not to return to work at all. Take time to think carefully about this. Stopping work is a major life decision for most of us. It’s generally not a good idea to make a big decision soon after a traumatic life event so don’t rush to decide. 

You don’t need to decide until your maternity leave comes to an end, and it’s difficult to know how you will be feeling at that point. It might help to take some advice from people you trust before making a decision.

Review dates
Reviewed: 20 May 2022 | Next review: 20 May 2025