Planning a funeral for your baby after a neonatal death
By law, any baby born after 24 weeks must be either buried or cremated. However, it is up to you as parents about whether to have a funeral.
There is no rule or law about when your baby’s funeral must happen, but normally it will happen within 2 to 3 weeks of your baby’s death. Take your time and think about what you would like to do. It may help to talk to the people closest to you.
Many hospitals have a maternity bereavement service with specialist midwives who will help and support you as you make decisions about a funeral for your baby. Often hospitals will offer you the option of them arranging a funeral for you or supporting you to arrange a funeral privately.
Don’t feel under pressure to rush any decisions. Unless there are special religious or cultural reasons for holding a funeral quickly, you can take all the time you need to make sure the funeral is arranged as you would like it to be.
When can I arrange the funeral?
If there is going to be a post-mortem, you will be able to arrange the details (but not the date) of your baby’s funeral before this is done.
Registering your baby’s life and death
You will need to get a birth and death certificate for your baby before you can hold a funeral. You’ll be given an ‘After registration’ form, which you can give to the funeral director or hospital, depending on who arranging this for you.
The hospital or funeral director can help you with this and any other forms. Find out more about registering your baby’s life and death.
Spending time with your baby before the funeral
Before their burial or cremation, your baby will be looked after in the hospital mortuary or the funeral home. You can visit them there but it may also be possible for you to take your baby home before the funeral.
“Our friend is an undertaker. He took Owen to the morgue and then brought him home to us in a coffin. We didn’t look at Owen again but he stayed at home with us until the funeral. His nursery was all ready for him so it felt natural to keep him there, in a coffin in his cot, for the following three days.”
Read more here about spending time with your baby after the death.
What funeral options are available?
Most hospitals can arrange a funeral for you, usually for free or for a small fee. The hospital will talk to you about what you want and complete any relevant paperwork. In some cases, your choices may be more limited than if you choose to arrange a funeral privately.
Different hospitals offer varying services. It is best to talk to your hospital or your bereavement midwife to find out what they offer. If this is too traumatic, perhaps a friend or family member can be with you to make sure you understand what is involved, so you can make an informed decision.
Remembering your baby
The hospital may have a book of remembrance where you can inscribe your baby’s name.
Some hospitals or health trusts hold a baby loss memorial service for bereaved parents, perhaps once a year. Hospital staff will be able to give you more details.
Having a private funeral
Having a private funeral means that you can decide when, where and how the funeral takes place.
Organising the funeral yourself
You can arrange the funeral by speaking directly to the crematorium or cemetery. You can include whatever you like in your ceremony. You may have important religious wishes that you would like recognised, or you may want a non-religious event.
"Daffodils were there the whole time she was alive. And we ended up having daffodils for her funeral because they’re so bright and they’re so pretty, but they don’t live very long. And that was Melody.”
A funeral director is responsible for arranging every part of a funeral, including the coffin, ceremony and the burial or cremation. You may have to pay a fee, but there may be some financial support available (see below).
What your funeral can include
It can be very small, with just family and your closest friends, or you may decide not to invite anyone at all.
If you’re religious, you may have a set structure to follow.
If you are not religious, you could ask the funeral director, an independent celebrant or a close family member or friend to lead the ceremony. It can be as personal as you want it to be.
Here are some things other parents have had in their ceremonies:
- live or recorded music
- bio-degradable balloon release
- lighting candles
- asking for donations to the hospital that looked after their baby or a baby charity
- avoiding black and asking guests to wear bright colours or white instead
- having a white coffin and asking family, friends and siblings to write messages on it
- encouraging family and friends to write letters to place in the coffin
- making an order of service with a picture of their baby, with their name and dates on the front.
Choosing the clothes
You can choose what your baby wears in their coffin. For very small or premature babies, some hospitals stock tiny clothes that they may be able to give you. Or you may want to bring some special clothes from home. Some parents keep a copy of the outfit in their memory box. You can also wrap your baby in a special blanket.
There may be other items that you want to include in your baby’s coffin. Some parents say that it’s comforting to know their baby has something with them. You might like to include photos of your family, a special teddy or toy, or a letter you’ve written to them. Siblings could draw a picture or write their own letter to their baby sister or brother.
You may also like to think about transport and who you would like to carry the coffin into the ceremony.
Deciding what to do with your baby’s ashes
If you decide on a cremation, you should be contacted when your baby’s ashes are ready to be collected. It’s important to know that sometimes it’s not possible to ensure that there are ashes after the cremation of a very small baby.
There are lots of things you can do with the ashes in memory of your baby. You might want to:
- Scatter them in a place that is special to you.
- Bury them in a cemetery or memorial garden.
- Scatter or bury the ashes in your own garden. Before doing this, think about how you’ll feel if you move to another home.
- Keep them in a decorative urn or other special container in your home.
- Buy a photo frame that has a container for holding the ashes at the back.
- Order special jewellery that is made with your baby’s ashes so you can wear them and keep them close to you.
Alternatively, the crematorium can bury or scatter the ashes for you in a special place in the crematorium grounds, possibly with a plaque.
Help with funeral costs
The Children’s Funeral Fund
The Children’s Funeral Fund for England can help to pay for some of the costs of a funeral. It is not means-tested so what you earn or how much you have in savings will not affect what you get. The burial or cremation must take place in England.
Find out more about The Children’s Funeral Fund for England.
Funeral Expenses Payment
You could get a Funeral Expenses Payment (also called a Funeral Payment) if you get certain benefits and need help to pay for a funeral you’re arranging.
If you live in Scotland
You can apply for a Funeral Support Payment. It has replaced Funeral Expenses Payment in Scotland.
Coping with your grief
This will be a very traumatic time for you. If you're worried that you or your partner are not coping, you may need some extra 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. Talk to your GP. They can help make sure you have the support you need.
You can also talk to a Tommy’s midwife for free from 9am–5pm, Monday to Friday on 0800 0147 800 or you can email them at [email protected]
Find out more about coping with your grief.
The British Humanist Association can provide information and officiants for non-religious funerals.
The Institute of Civil Funerals trains, regulates and provides details of civil funeral celebrants.
Funeral Map provides independent information on arranging a funeral.
The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) is the largest professional association of funeral directors with a Code of Practice and Arbitration Scheme.
The Natural Death Centre provides information on ‘green’ funerals and arranging a funeral yourself.
Gov. UK What to do when someone dies: step by step. https://www.gov.uk/when-someone-dies
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)