Spending time with your baby after a neonatal death

When a baby dies shortly after birth parents will often have barely seen their child without being surrounded by medical equipment.

During this heartbreaking time being able to hold your baby and spend time with your baby without any equipment can help with the grieving process and give you memories that can help you cope with grief later.

All hospitals should offer you and your family time alone with your baby, to hold them, take photos or footprints. Parents have told us that in spite of the grief this is a very special time, a time to create memories and acknowledge your baby’s existence in the world.

Holding your baby

After your baby dies you’ll be able to choose whether you see, hold and spend time with your baby.

Don’t rush this time. Think about how you feel now, but also how you might feel in the future. Many mums told us that the time they spent holding their baby was a very precious memory to them afterwards.

Spending time with your baby

You might want to choose special clothes to dress your baby, wrap them in a special blanket or bathe them.

You might want to sleep with your baby in a cot next to you for the night. The hospital may be able to provide a special cold cot for this.

You might want to read a story to your baby or sing to them.

Take as much time as you need. It is your baby, and your decision. It is up to you who is with you and who is not. You will get support from hospital staff.

Taking your baby home

Some parents decide to take their baby home with them. It gives you time to grieve together quietly and privately with family and friends.

You can take your baby home directly from the ward once any legal documentation has been completed. If a post-mortem examination is needed you will not be able to take your baby home directly from the ward but you can arrange to have your baby at home after the post-mortem. A post-mortem is usually only needed if the cause of death is unclear. It is decided by the coroner, a government official whose role is to confirm and certify deaths in your area.

How do I take my baby home?

If there is no post-mortem you can 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 obtained from a funeral director or one that you have made yourself.

You may wish to use the services of a funeral director to bring your baby home but there may be a charge for this service.

Will I need to sign any forms?

Before leaving the hospital, you will be asked to sign a form saying that you are taking your baby home and will be arranging their burial or cremation. There is no legal requirement for a funeral service to be held, but the law says that the babies who die after birth should be buried or cremated.

You will be given a Neonatal Death Certificate and will need to contact the Registrar’s Office to register your baby’s death.

At home with my baby

When you are at home, the room that your baby will be in needs to be kept cool and well ventilated. If the weather is hot you can hire room coolers. A funeral director should be able to help.

You can decide the length of time that your baby is at home, within reason. Some parents have their baby at home the day or night before the burial or cremation. For others, a longer period is needed. Your baby’s skin may change during this time, which might be upsetting.

Making a memory box

A memory box is a box or container that holds items related to the birth and life of your baby and that will, in future, allow you to remember your baby and this time with more clarity. Ask your midwife about creating a memory box.

You may want to take photos of the baby or take handprints or footprints. Your midwife can help with this. You may want to keep any clothes your baby wore or blankets or toys that were with them.

Some hospitals are able to store these keepsakes for you if you aren’t ready to take them home yourself. Or you could put them in a sealed envelope or box, which you can 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 scans, pressed flowers you’ve received, letters, the cord-clamp or your own or your baby’s hospital name band.

‘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, who lost her son Arthur

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 are likely to 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 and their birthday, the day of the funeral – these can all become difficult days. You might want to think about taking time off work, 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, who lost her daughter Erin

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:

  • You may want to get a piece of jewellery made, engraved with your baby’s name or their hand or footprint.
  • You may want to plant a tree – in a pot so you can take it with you if you move, or in a garden or special place.
  • You could choose a special candle holder and light a candle when you want to have quiet time or on special dates.

As time goes by grief will 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, who lost her daughter Rhianna Lily

Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect too much. Give yourself time and space to grieve and to remember your baby.

Say goodbye to your baby through a ceremony

Planning a funeral or memorial for your baby can be a special way to commemorate your their 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 three 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, who lost her baby Rhianna Lily

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.

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

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

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