Coping with grief after neonatal loss

Information and support for parents whose baby died after birth, including how to cope day-to-day and how you might be feeling in yourself and towards others.

We can’t pretend to know how you’re feeling because grief after losing a baby is different for everyone. What we can do is share some of the feelings our supporters experienced when grieving for their children, in the hope that it helps you feel less alone. 

For birth mothers, the natural changes in mood caused by falling hormone levels after having a baby will be combined with your grief. Try to remember what’s happening to you physically as well as emotionally.

Frighteningly intense grief

All the parents we talked to mentioned the intensity of their grief and pain. It can feel like it is affecting you physically as well as emotionally. Parents have told us the intensity of feelings can be frightening.

Some mothers say their arms physically ache to hold their baby and 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 of your mind, but however strong your feelings may be, it is not abnormal.

Grief can feel like it’s taking over everything. Lots of mums we spoke to say that losing their baby left them struggling to think straight and made it difficult to make decisions.

If you are worried about what you’re feeling, try and speak to your GP about it.

The physical symptoms of grief

Some people experience grief physically as well as emotionally. Symptoms could include shaking, an upset stomach, heart palpitations, pain in your chest, butterflies in your stomach and sickness, all of which are common.

Try to look after yourself and your body after your baby dies. It’s normal not to have an appetite but you need to keep eating and drinking, and try to keep as physically strong as you can because it will help you cope with the emotional trauma you’re going through.

Finding the courage to go outside can be tricky. 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 big difference to how they felt.

Exhaustion and being run-down physically and emotionally can make you more prone to viral infections, like colds.

It’s not uncommon to find it difficult to sleep and to experience dreams and nightmares for a while.

If you are worried about any physical symptoms, speak to your GP and see if they can help. Not getting something checked out can make you feel more anxious.

Feeling numb

The early hours, days or even weeks after your baby dies often feel like a blur. You might find yourself numb and removed from the world and what is happening around you.

Common feelings

Every parent will react to the loss of their baby differently. You might feel numb, shocked, angry, sad or a combination of things. Here are some common feelings bereaved parents describe to us:

Guilt

When a baby dies, most parents blame themselves for what happened or think deep down they have failed their baby. In almost all deaths this is not the case but it is a powerful emotion. Even if you know rationally that you could not have prevented the death, you may blame yourself and be angry with yourself for not being able to stop it.

With time, some parents also feel guilty when they are able to think about something other than their baby. They feel as if they’re not honouring their baby or ‘forgetting them’. However, 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 periods not thinking about your baby is important. Your baby will always be part of you, even in your happiest future moments.

Read more about ways to remember your baby.

Anger

It’s normal to feel angry; it 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, especially if  it is an early neonatal death and you have been very careful in pregnancy to do everything that is recommended to keep your baby healthy.

“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.” Elle, Teddy’s mum

Sometimes the injustice of the situation will make you question why this has happened to you and your baby. This ‘Why me?’ feeling can seem endless and infuriating.

Jealousy

This is another common feeling when grieving for the baby you lost. Seeing babies or pregnancy bumps can bring back the immense pain of your loss. Many parents feel unable to leave the house for fear of bumping into someone who might be pregnant or have a child with them. This feeling can last for months.

If there are specific people who are close to you who are pregnant or have a young baby call or text them and tell them you can't see them and tell them why. Or you can ask a mutual friend to explain the pain it causes you. In time most of these relationships can be picked up again when you feel able for it.

Support for partners

The advice on this page is written for all parents, but it is important to remember that partners can often be forgotten after a baby dies. Most of the time, everyone is busy trying to take care of the mother and it’s easy to overlook their partner.

Read more about supporting each other after the loss of your baby.

Support from family and friends

Having family and friends rally round you might be exactly what you need, whereas others can find it exhausting and just want to be alone. Be honest with them about what you need (or don’t need) from them. 

Do not feel under pressure to have visitors unless they will be a source of comfort. If you have a trusted friend or family member, ask them to manage your visitors for you.

Deal with each moment and each day at a time and do what feels right for you. This is a time to look after yourself and your partner, not the outside world.

Doing practical things can be a big help, especially in the early days. A select few trusted few people could help with:

  • making meals
  • getting back to people who have sent cards or flowers
  • food shopping
  • washing
  • watering the garden/mowing the grass
  • taking care of any other children you might have.

However, you might find that you want to keep busy with the above. There’s no right or wrong approach.

There is a page here that you could share with family and friends on how they can give support.

Sharing your feelings

Often, expressing your feelings instead of keeping them internal,can help. There are lots of ways to express yourself:

  • writing -  for yourself through a diary, sharing with others through a blog or on social media
  • drawing
  • talking about it to your partner, friend or family member
  • talking about it to your doctor
  • being part of a forum of other people who have gone through the same experience (Tommy's hosts a closed and safe Facebook forum for people who have been through baby loss)
  • sharing your story - we host a space where parents can share stories of loss, it can be done anonymously or not.

You might find it helpful to talk to other parents who have lost a baby for reassurance that what you’re feeling is normal, and help you to feel less alone.

If your instinct is to talk, you may find yourself sharing your story over and over. This is OK. Every time you say your baby’s name or share their story, it will help you come to terms with what has happened.

This isn’t for everyone. Some parents find it hard to describe how they’re feeling or talk about their baby. In this case, try writing down what happened and fill in a diary of how you feel each day. You can keep this private or share it with your partner or anyone else who you want to understand what you’re going through.

Seeking professional help

There is all sorts of support available but it will depend on where you live. It might take a little while to find what works for you.

A bereavement support officer or bereavement midwife may be able to help you with paperwork and funeral planning.

You might also be able to access bereavement counselling through your GP.

Grief or postnatal depression

Some mums suffer with postnatal depression (PND) after their baby dies. You might also show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after everything you’ve been through. If you're worried that what you’re feeling is more than grief, talk to your GP.

Many PND symptoms are like the symptoms of grief, so can be hard to tell them apart. If you have had a previous mental health issue though you are more likely to suffer from PND, so you and someone who knows you well should be looking out for:

  • a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
  • loss of interest in life, no longer enjoying things that used to give pleasure
  • lack of energy and feeling tired all the time.
  • trouble sleeping during the night and then being exhausted during the day
  • difficulty concentrating and decision-making
  • low self-confidence
  • no appetite or an increase in appetite (‘comfort eating’)
  • feeling very agitated or, alternatively, very apathetic (you can’t be bothered)
  • feelings of guilt and self-blame
  • thinking about suicide or self-harming.

If, after about 6 months, you are still finding every day life difficult, look for professional help. Start by talking to your GP.

Talk to someone

If you want someone to listen, call Tommy’s expert health professionals for free on 0800 0147 800, Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. The team have been training to offer bereavement care and will be happy to talk to you about your baby and how you’re feeling.

Join the Tommy’s support group on Facebook to speak to other parents who have lost a baby.

Saying Goodbye have a befriending service. You can also attend Saying Goodbye ceremonies across the country to remember your baby.

The Child Bereavement Trust has support groups, offers counselling and lots of online resources. They can help siblings through a bereavement.

TAMBA is the Twins and Multiple Births Association for support with losing a multiple birth baby.

Read stories

Last reviewed on October 4th, 2018. Next review date October 4th, 2021.

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