Returning to work after a stillbirth

Going back to work after losing a baby can be a welcome return to routine for some but terrifying for others. Take time to work out what’s best for you.

Your rights after a stillbirth

If your baby died after 24 weeks of pregnancy or was born alive and then died, and you have worked for long enough for your employer, you should be entitled to full statutory parental leave, which is 52 weeks’ Maternity Leave for the birth mum/birthing parent and up to 2 weeks for partners.  

You may be entitled to Maternity Pay from your employer, Maternity Allowance, or income-related benefits from the government. You must claim this within 28 days of your baby’s birth. 

You can read more up-to-date information about Maternity Pay and Leave, including eligibility criteria, on the GOV.UK website.

If your baby died before 24 weeks of pregnancy, this means that you will not be entitled to full statutory parental leave. Instead, you will need to get a medical certificate to say that you are not fit for work or your employer may have policies in place to support grieving parents. 

You may also be eligible for Parental Bereavement Leave and Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay, which is where an employee can take 2 weeks’ leave from the first day of their employment for each child who was stillborn. You can find more information about Parental Bereavement Leave on the GOV.UK website

As the birth mum/birthing parent's leave is usually much longer and the situation can be more complex, the information on this page is mainly aimed at them but will also be relevant for partners too.

Read more about your rights and benefits after a stillbirth, including Shared Parental Leave.

When to return to work after a stillbirth?

After the birth, you’ll need time to recover physically from the birth and the trauma of losing your baby. Grief can cause physical exhaustion, which means it's unlikely you’ll feel able to work for a several weeks at least. Listen to your body.

If you had your baby early, your due date might be as much as 16 weeks away. When your due date arrives, it may be very emotional painful so try to keep this in mind when planning your return to work. 

It is your decision whether you choose to take all the parental leave, or just some of it. Some people may need to return for practical or financial reasons, while others may find it a welcome return to routine.

"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, who lost her son Tristan

It’s important to take some time to work out what’s best for you. Talk it over with your family or get some advice from your GP.

If you’re thinking of returning sooner, find out from your employer what the process is for cutting it short. You may need to give them a couple of months’ notice.

"After Christmas I decided it was time for me to return to work. I’d been off for three months but it just didn’t seem right for me to be on maternity leave with no baby."
Shelley, who lost her son Joseph. Read Shelley's story.

Phased return to work

Even when you feel ready to go back to work, when the day comes it might feel very difficult. Consider requesting a gradual return to work, starting with shorter days or weeks. Or perhaps some days working from home, if that’s possible.

"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."
Diane, who lost her daughter Chloe. Read Diane’s story.

Employers are legally required to consider requests for part-time working arrangements, although they aren’t obliged to agree.

"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, who lost her son Arthur. Taken with permission from the book, ‘Life After Stillbirth’ by Sarah Smith.

Visiting your workplace and communicating before you go back

Once you have agreed a date to return to work, you might want to organise a visit to your workplace or an online meeting with your team. You could get together with some trusted colleagues informally. It will allow you to see them and talk to them in a relaxed environment where you are not surrounded by others, which can be harder.

Before the visit, or before your first day back, email your colleagues, your manager or HR manager about whether you’re comfortable or not with talking about your baby. You could write about your baby, explain to them what happened and ask them to share this information with your colleagues.

You may want to tell them whether you’re happy or not talking about the baby at work. It is completely up to you how you want to manage this but discussing it by email, in advance, might take some of the pressure off you and help colleagues understand your feelings. 

We have put together a page for colleagues and managers that may be helpful for you to share with them. 

Be kind to yourself

Remember that you have been through a huge amount. Don’t be surprised if you feel exhausted or struggle to concentrate at work. This is normal. Take it slowly. You may feel more sensitive than usual, or be less patient.

"At first being back was scary as I had been in my house and mostly in my room for two and a half months...I didn’t have to look presentable or worry that my eyes were swollen from crying all day long. But now I was back at work and had to keep it weeks went by it got better and I got more comfortable with what happened without breaking down." 
Taken with permission from the book, ‘Life After Stillbirth’ by Sarah Smith

You also might notice that grief hits you in waves. You might be fine one day, and then another the feelings of loss and sadness overwhelm you. Don’t be afraid to take time out in these situations. Try going for a short walk to get some fresh air. Or talk to your manager about finishing 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." 

There are likely to be emotional triggers for you too. Maybe a colleague will visit during their maternity leave, a new parent might bring their baby in for a visit or there may be pregnancy announcements. Be gentle on yourself – it’s natural to feel a mix of emotions at these times. 

"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." 

Your colleagues’ reactions

It is difficult to understand the grief of losing a baby unless you’ve been through it yourself. You might find that some people know what to say and how to support you, while others are uncomfortable or deal with it by behaving as if nothing has happened.

"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." 

"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." 

Choosing not to return to work

You may choose not to return to work at all. Take time to think carefully about this. It’s hard to make any decisions about your future while you are going through a bereavement. You don’t need to make a decision until your leave comes to an end, and it’s difficult to know how you will be feeling at that point.

"I took my years maternity and resigned when that finished. I didn’t feel strong enough to go back to work, or mentally ready. I did start going for interviews after my son’s birthday but again didn’t feel ready. I’ve now been offered a job and I’m really excited by it which is the first time I’ve felt like this in a very long time." 
Taken with permission from the book, ‘Life After Stillbirth’ by Sarah Smith)


Support for you

You can talk to our Tommy’s midwives for free on 0800 0147 800. We are open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. The midwives on the line have received training in bereavement care and will be able to talk to you about what you’re going through. 

Review dates
Reviewed: 11 February 2022
Next review: 11 February 2025