Spending time with your baby after a neonatal death

This information is about how you can spend precious time with your baby in the hours and days after their death and create memories to treasure. This includes information about taking your baby home.

When a baby dies shortly after birth, many parents haven’t seen their child without them being surrounded by medical equipment. You may want to spend some time with your baby without any wires or monitors around.

Making memories

All hospitals should offer you and your family time alone with your baby. Parents have told us that, even though it is very difficult, this is a very special time. It allowed them to create memories, acknowledge their baby’s existence in the world and recognise their place in the family. 

You may want to:

  • hold your baby
  • take photos
  • make hand and footprints
  • dress them or wrap them in a special blanket
  • bathe them
  • read them a story or sing to them. 

Some parents want to sleep with their baby in a cot next to them for the night. The hospital may be able to provide a special cot for this. It is up to you who is in the room with you and your baby. You will get support from the staff at the hospital. They will try to help make sure you can do the things you would like to do.

Taking your baby home

You should be offered the opportunity to take your baby home, if this is what you want. This can give you time and space to grieve quietly and privately with family and friends.

A specialist bereavement midwife at the hospital can help with this. If your baby has died in a neonatal unit, the team there should also be able to offer support with this.

Before leaving the hospital, you will be asked to sign a form stating that you’re taking your baby home and when you will bring them back. You should be given a contact number, in case you change your mind.

The hospital may contact your GP, community midwife and health visitor to tell them that you are taking their baby home in case you need support at home.

Arranging a funeral

You are not legally required to have a funeral for your baby. But you are legally required to have a burial or cremation. 

You will be given a Neonatal Death Certificate and will need to contact the registrar’s office to register your baby’s death. Find out more about registering your baby’s death and planning a funeral for your baby

How do I take my baby home?

If there is no post-mortem, you may be able to take your baby from the hospital ward or from the hospital mortuary. Your baby can be transported in your own car. You may wish to carry your baby in your arms, use a Moses basket or a casket from a funeral director or one that you have made yourself. 

You may want to use a funeral director to bring your baby home. There may be a charge for this service. 

Hospital staff may need to tell the police that you are taking your baby home in case you are involved in an accident or stopped by police for any reason. This is normal procedure and doesn’t affect what you can and cannot do.

At home with your baby

It is up to you how long you keep your baby at home with you. Some parents have their baby home the day or night before the burial or cremation, but others need more time. There is no legal time limit for this, but it is important to remember that your baby’s appearance will change. 

For example, their lips may darken and their skin will also be very fragile and may peel. You may also notice marks on your baby’s skin that look like bruises. These are marks from where the blood settles when the heart stops beating. Your baby's body may feel cool or firm to touch.

The hospital should give you advice about how to care for your baby at home, including how to keep your baby cool. They may be able to lend you a cuddle cot to use at home. A cuddle cot is a small cooling mattress that can be placed in a Moses basket or a cot to help keep your baby at the best temperature. This will help you keep your baby at home with you for longer.

The hospital may give you information about local charities or organisations that could help you during this time. A funeral director may also be able to help.

Making a memory box

A memory box contains items from the pregnancy, birth and life of your baby. Some parents make them because it gives them something physical to connect with.

You may want to take photos of your baby or take handprints or footprints. You may also want to take clay imprints of your baby’s hands or feet. This is something the midwives caring for you can help with if you would like them to. You may want to keep any clothes your baby wore or blankets or toys that were with them.

Some hospitals can store these for you, if you aren’t ready to take them home yourself. Or you could put them in a sealed envelope or box, to open when you’re ready.

If a twin or triplet has died, you could take a photograph of your babies together. One day you might want to show a surviving child their twin or sibling.

Some hospitals offer a memory booklet to record details and measurements of your baby.

You might want to collect baby scans, pressed flowers you’ve received, letters, the cord-clamp or your own or your baby’s hospital name band. Tell the midwives caring for you what you would like to keep and they will arrange this.

"The things we have to remember Arthur are now some of my most treasured possessions. I wear a locket necklace every day with a photo of him in it and a lock of his hair. We have some beautiful photographs and molds of his footprints. It keeps his memory alive to be surrounded by these mementoes."

Kathryn

Say goodbye to your baby through a ceremony

Planning a funeral or memorial for your baby can be a special way to commemorate your baby’s memory. You’re legally required to bury or cremate your baby’s body, but you do not need a formal funeral for this. 

“The service was a lovely simple service, just the 3 of us, with Rhianna Lily in my arms the whole time. In her white blanket that had held her mummy and held her brother. It was such an important blanket and one that she had to have with her, it was the only thing that we could give her and I was so grateful that even though she’d been changed no one had removed that blanket from her.”

Kerry

It is your decision whether you have a small, private ceremony or funeral for immediate family, or whether you decide to have a bigger funeral for your baby and invite friends and extended family. At many hospitals the specialist bereavement midwife will support you with making any arrangements.

Read more about planning a funeral or arranging a blessing for your baby.

“I think it’s important that people know that it's fine not to do anything with your child's ashes. My son's remain in the original box on top of a chest of drawers in our bedroom and that's just fine for us. In the early days people seemed quite bothered about what we would do with them and I can see that parents could be easily persuaded into doing something that's not right for them. It's just important to take time to make any decisions.”

Jardine

Remembering your baby in the future

As time passes, you might want to think about continuing to collect and make memories.

Some parents decide to mark anniversaries. These will probably be triggers for your grief so be aware of this and look after yourself. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the day of your baby’s death, their birthday, and/or the day of the funeral can all become difficult days. You might want to think about taking time off work to reflect or marking important dates in some way.

“Every year on Erin’s birthday, we do something to commemorate her memory. We release biodegradable balloons like we did at her funeral and we take time as a family to do an activity.”

Bethan

If you have other children, they may want to celebrate their sibling’s birthday.

How you remember your baby is personal to you and your family. Here are some ideas.

  • Have a piece of jewellery made, engraved with your baby’s name or their hand or footprint.
  • Plant a tree in a pot so you can take it with you if you move, or in a garden or special place.
  • Light a candle when you want to have quiet time or on special dates.

As time goes by, grief may continue to hit you in waves. It might be unexpected at times.

“I got really upset about what would have been Rhianna’s first day of school. When I saw all the little five-year-olds, I burst into tears.” 

Kerry

Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time and space to grieve and to remember your baby.

More support and information

You can 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] 

  • 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.

Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Taking your baby home following their death. (Last reviewed: April 2020 Next review due: April 2023) https://www.gloshospitals.nhs.uk/media/documents/Taking_your_baby_home_following_their_death_GHPI0700_04_20.pdf

NHS (2020) Death of a baby. https://www.nhsinform.scot/care-support-and-rights/death-and-bereavement/death-of-a-baby

Wrighton, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Post mortem examination on babies or children including stillbirths. https://www.wwl.nhs.uk/media/.leaflets/5fd89aa9beb063.05322643.pdf

Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (2021) Sensitive Arrangements Following the Loss of a Baby – Information for Parents. https://www.hey.nhs.uk/patient-leaflet/sensitive-arrangements-following-loss-baby-information-parents/

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