Coping with grief after the loss of a baby – for parents

Information and support for parents on coping with grief after having a stillborn baby.

We are so sorry for your loss, and saddened to know you are having to use this information. We hope you will find it useful, factual and take some of the stress out of your future weeks. 

Coping with grief after a stillbirth is very personal but we wanted to share some of the feelings our supporters have experienced when grieving for their stillborn baby, in the hope it might help others. We know that for parents the intense grief after losing a baby can cause overwhelming, possibly frightening, emotional and physical reactions. You may feel life will never be normal again. Knowing more about how others experienced the grieving process may help.

For mums, grief will be also be combined by the natural mood changes caused by the dropping hormone levels after having a baby. Remember to allow for this.

Maternal instinct

You might feel overwhelmed by maternal instinct and frightened by the intensity of these feelings.

‘It is such a powerful feeling and if this is your first child it can be very unsettling as you come to terms with the strength of the grief. But remember you are strong too.Lucie

‘I found a lot of comfort in washing and drying the clothes my son had worn when in the hospital – I understood later that this was an expression of my maternal instinct in wanting to care for him in any way I still could.’ Kathryn

'I remember just saying over and over again "I want her back". I would have given anything to go back to the hospital and hold her again. Or to kiss her cold little cheeks. We had the clothes we had dressed her in and they still smelt of her, so we had put them into a sealed bag to keep the smell, and we would take turns in opening the bag and sniffing them before quickly sealing it up again.' Diane, who lost her baby Chloe at 40 weeks (read Diane's story here)

Some mums describe wanting to dig up their baby’s body from the grave to cuddle them. Others talk about their arms aching to hold their baby. Any reaction you have to your loss is completely natural.

You may physically feel, hear or see things you can’t explain, like your baby kick inside you or the sound of a baby crying.

Day to day grieving

Many parents said that after losing their baby they could not think straight and felt unable to make decisions. Grief can take over your mind and sometimes affect your short-term memory and you may find it difficult to remember things that have just happened.

‘In the immediate aftermath of losing Chloe, the thing that helped me the most was actually to isolate myself for a week. My husband and I requested no visitors. We checked in via text with our parents to let them know we were OK, but ultimately we just cocooned ourselves together at home. We needed to sit and cry and try to absorb what had happened.’ Diane, who lost her baby Chloe at 40 weeks (read Diane's story here)

The immediate moments or days after their stillbirth are often described as a blur. It can leave you feeling in shock, numb and disconnected

Some parents felt they could not leave home and dreaded having to explain to friends or colleagues where their baby was.

Many parents couldn’t face the idea of seeing other babies, and felt intense jealousy towards other parents.

Others decided to visit their antenatal group, which was often a distressing but positive experience.

'I was supposed to be a mother, what was I now? I’d already made plans for Christmases and birthdays. I’d imagined three little boys excitedly opening presents. I didn’t know who I was or who I was supposed to be. Pregnancy was focused on the outcome of being a mother. I had to create a new life and I no longer knew what I liked, wanted or needed.' Jo

Pregnancy ads

At Tommy's we often hear from women and men who are bombarded with ads promoting maternity and baby products after loss, which can be really distressing.

Find out how to stop pregnancy ads

Guilt and anger after a stillbirth

Many women feel they have failed as mums. They feel responsible for what has happened because their body let them down and they didn’t give birth to a healthy baby. 

It’s not unusual for bereaved parents, particularly mums, to become obsessed with their own, their partner’s or their other children’s health. Your own mortality can come to the fore – if a tiny baby can die so can anyone. This reaction usually fades with time – if it doesn’t and you are struggling to manage the anxiety, talk to your doctor or health visitor.

With time, some mums also feel guilty when they start to feel a little better, as if they’re not honouring their baby or ‘forgetting them’.

Anger is a very natural part of grief. Many parents direct this towards the hospital, and at other times towards friends and family. For some people, it is a generalised anger at the undeservedness and injustice, ‘Why me?’

All the feelings we mention here are normal. However, if you start to worry about how you’re feeling, please try talking to your GP.

Dads, partners and coping with grief

The information on this page is for both parents, but it needs to be acknowledged that dads and partners can be forgotten after a baby is stillborn. As everyone looks to the mum who carried the baby, it’s easy to overlook the fact that partners need time and space to grieve too. Try to remember that people may grieve differently. 

Some people find it difficult to express their emotions and their feelings can get locked up. This can be misunderstood as indifference to the loss of their baby. It's also easy to assume that 'they are okay'.

For example, many people have told us that men often take on the role of protector in the family, supporting their partner and not allowing time for their own grief. It is not unusual for men to take on the practicalities and keep themselves busy.

You will both need time and space to grieve. This may happen after the funeral if there is one, or possibly many weeks later.

'I had to go back to work straight away. It was a good distraction. I ran a lot and I kept doing that. I signed up for marathons. Running got me away for a few hours at a time and gave me a way to switch off. I wasn’t right for at least 6 months after. I was functioning but I was on autopilot. I wasn’t myself. People might not have noticed too much.' Keith, who lost his son Owen at 38 weeks (Read Keith’s story here)

Read more about supporting each other as a couple. 

Getting help to cope from friends and family

Family and friends may want to rally around. Some parents will appreciate this, others might find it exhausting. This is a time to be honest about what you need.

Practical help can be invaluable, particularly in the early days when you’re recovering from the birth. If you have trusted friends or family and are able to cope with having them around these are things they can help with:

  • home cooked meals
  • filing and responding to messages of condolences
  • shopping
  • laundry
  • gardening
  • looking after other children.

For other people, however, keeping busy can be part of the healing process.

It might help to circulate our page on 'How to give support' to friends and family who want to know how they can help you.

After the birth

Most women will agree that the emotional pain is infinitely more difficult to bear than the physical discomfort of giving birth. But don’t underestimate how your hormone levels rapidly change after the birth, and post-natal mood swings and tears are normal, regardless. These hormonal changes might make your grief even harder to cope with in the early weeks and months.

You will also have to cope with the physical effects of giving birth. You will bleed heavily for the first few days after the birth, you may have painful stitches or after-pains (as the uterus contracts back to its normal size). Your breasts will produce milk and this can lead to painful engorgement. Talk to your midwife about how to manage your milk coming in.

The physical side-effects of giving birth can be very difficult to cope with and it can feel like nature is playing a cruel trick on you.

Read more about coping with the physical effects of a stillbirth

‘For me one of the most awful things was my milk coming in. I was sadly unable to take any medication to stop it, so I was told to compress my breasts with tighter tops to try and stem the supply.’ Bethan

The hospital will tell your GP, community midwife and health visitor what has happened so they can offer you care and support once you are home.

If you haven’t heard from your GP within a few days, phone your surgery to arrange to see someone. You might want to ask your GP to put a note on your record so it is immediately obvious to anyone you deal with in future what has happened.

Although it may be difficult and heart-breaking, it is important to ensure you attend all your post-natal appointments. It might help to call your GP and find out in advance of appointments what will happen so you can prepare yourself.

Read more about postnatal care after a stillbirth

Physical grief

You may have physical reactions to your grief. Heart palpitations, shaking, chest pains, diarrhoea, butterflies in your stomach and sickness are all common.

It is important to try to look after yourself after the birth. You may not feel like eating or drinking but you need to try to keep physically strong to cope with the emotional trauma.

Many people felt it was very difficult to leave the house, but if you feel able to do so, parents often report that once they went out they felt that being outdoors in the fresh air helped.

‘It's almost like I created a time capsule, which may be seen as unhealthy to some, but I find it so therapeutic. I spent a long time after the birth just sitting playing every minute of the labour and delivery and the following 12 hours over in my head because I didn't want to forget how I felt or what happened, as if I did start to forget it would mean I would also forget Chloe. I had to take that pressure off myself to stop my panic attacks, and so the memory box has really helped with that. When I do sit and look through it I am taken back to those feelings, and honestly sometimes I really need to just sit in that and feel it wash over me again. But then when I have had my time looking back through everything I can put it away and focus on my day to day life again.’ Diane, who lost her baby Chloe at 40 weeks (read Diane's story here)

You may be more prone to viral infections, such as colds. You may feel physically exhausted.

Sleep may be difficult for a while. You might have vivid dreams and nightmares.

Do not hesitate to get in touch with your GP if you feel you need extra support with the physical effects of grieving.

‘I suffered from PTSD and nightmares for several months after my stillbirth. At night I would lie in bed reliving what had happened. I learnt to write my feelings down which acted as a release.' Bethan

'The grief was overwhelming. I suffered horrific nightmares, and although family and friends rallied around, nobody could penetrate the bubble of heart and gut wrenching ache. I learnt to ‘act’, to do the bare minimum to simply survive my daily routine.' Jo

Share your feelings

Talking to close and trusted family members or friends about your feelings and your experience can bring comfort.

Most parents also felt that talking to other people who had experienced a stillbirth was very helpful and reassured them that their feelings were normal. It can also make you feel less alone.

You may find that crying and talking about your baby are good ways of releasing feelings. You may want to tell your story over and over again. This is normal and you should follow this instinctive urge to talk as it helps you come to terms with what has happened. Don’t be afraid to mention the name of your baby who has died.

Other parents however find it hard to express their feelings or talk about their baby.

‘Sometimes you just don’t know where to start, or find it too hard or horrifically sad.’ Lucy

It might be helpful to write down what happened and how you feel each day. You may want to draw or paint, write a poem, keep a diary, create a web page, set up a blog or make a scrapbook.

SANDS, a support charity, can put you in touch with other parents who have had stillborn babies and will be happy to listen and talk.

Get support to help cope with the grief

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.

There is support out there, but it will differ depending on where you live. Sometimes you need to explore all your options to find the best one for you.

Knowing the difference between postnatal depression and grief

Some mums suffer with postnatal depression after a stillbirth. You might also show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder after the terrible ordeal you’ve been through. Talk to your GP if you are worried about your feelings and reactions.

The main symptoms of postnatal depression are very similar to the symptoms of grief so it is not easy to tell them apart. If you have had a previous mental health issue though you are more likely to suffer from postnatal depression so you or a close person should be on the lookout. Here are some symptoms to look 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.

Other symptoms can include:

  • disturbed sleep, such as having trouble sleeping during the night and then being sleepy during the day
  • difficulties with concentration and making decisions
  • low self-confidence
  • poor 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 and self-harming.

If, after about six months, you are still struggling to cope with everyday life, consider getting some professional help, which you can discuss with your GP.

More support

You can talk to our midwives on Tommy’s free PregnancyLine 0800 0147 800. Open 9-5, Monday to Friday. The midwives on the line have received training in bereavement care and welcome calls from parents who have lost a baby.

There is also an online forum where you can connect with other people who have lost a baby.

Saying Goodbye offers support, advice and a befriending service. You can also attend Saying Goodbye ceremonies across the country.

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

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

Read more about stillbirth

    Last reviewed on September 1st, 2017. Next review date September 1st, 2020.

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    Comments

    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Garmai (not verified) on 30 Jan 2017 - 13:52

      I cant believe I'm even saying that I lost my baby. Loosing your first child at 34 weeks, how do you deal with the pain? How do you move on with your life? Feeling like I could have done more to save him. Having to deliver him but cant take him home. The pain is unbearable and unreal.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 30 Jan 2017 - 14:29

      Hi Garmai.
      I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your beautiful son 11 days ago. I cannot begin to imagine how you must be feeling.
      Guilt is a very normal emotion to feel at this stage. If you feel that it would help you, please give us a call on 0800147800 to speak to a midwife. We aren't trained counselors, but we are fully trained in Bereavement care and support.
      Sending you our thoughts and love at this difficult time.

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 26 Feb 2017 - 21:15

      Hi. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I also lost my baby on the 19th of January at 38 weeks. How are the weeks treating you. I feel the days are getting longer and more painful.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 27 Feb 2017 - 11:16

      Thank you for sharing your story with us and with other mothers. Please do call us on 0800 0147800 to speak to a midwife if you feel that this would be useful for you. We are not counselors, but we are bereavement trained, and sadly, understand exactly what it is you are going through.
      Please look after yourself.

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 18 Jan 2017 - 19:54

      I lost my precious son in childbrith over 20 years ago and some days it feels like yesterday. The torment the pain the tears I fight back "to be strong" the wonder of what his life would be like, what kind of mom i would be is with me all the time. I've grown and matured by leaps and bounds but when it comes to that little guy who grew inside me for eight months, im back in my 20s lost and confused. Therapy. I've done it. Anti depressants, those too. There's nothing to hold me when memories slam into me head on. Just sharing, trying something different, reaching out to the cyber world seeking what I don't know. I miss him so terribly, yet i never heard him cry or take a breath or grasp my finger with his. Timedoes heal but the memories they never go away. My love. My angel. I cry. I hide my tears. I laugh through the agony.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Jan 2017 - 11:51

      Thank you for sharing this and we are so sorry to hear about the pain that you have been through. We hope that our website gives you some comfort to know that we are working hard to try to understand why this happens and to help other women in the future. Best wishes to you x

    • By Win (not verified) on 11 Jan 2017 - 02:35

      I'm 26 and was due to have my first child in April. On the 2nd of January 2017, I went to the hospital because I just had a feeling something was wrong. They told me my little girl was gone...she had died...her heart wasn't beating. I keep replaying the moment the midwife told me there was no heartbeat and my screams. I don't know how I will ever feel again, pushing her out and holding her lifeless body in my arms is something I don't think I will ever forget. I know it's only been a week and I should give myself time to grieve but I can't see how I will ever get past this. I loved her so much and I never even got to hear her laugh, cry, breathe, nothing. This pain is undescribable.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 11 Jan 2017 - 12:03

      Thank you for posting. It is utterly devastating news that you have lost your first born little baby girl on the second day of 2017. I can only imagine the trauma and distress that you went through after finding out that she had died, her birth and death and the loss of this very loved child who you will never see grow up.
      It is very normal to feel that you will never get past this. Your life has been forever changed by carrying her and losing her and your grief is raw as it is only days since her birth. Please don't try to cope on your own there is support out there for you and your partner through the charity SANDS. Their website also provides help for your extended family and friends so that they can support you.
      Please call them when you feel ready on 0207 436 5881 as the supporters on the helpline know what you are going through as they have been through a stillbirth too.
      We are also here to listen and support you now and in the future at Tommy's either through our website or phone line 0800 0147 800.
      With love at this tragic time
      Tommy's Midwives

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 11 Jan 2017 - 22:41

      I came to this page because 4 years ago today my wife had to deliver our baby girl who died at 20 weeks after a complication with the umbilical chord. She would have been our second child. Every year on this day I pull out our box of memories (foot prints we had done, photos we took of her etc.) and I have a good cry. It was one of the hardest things to go through but it got easier over time. Of course, you never forget, and the pain of that lost child never leaves you. We've since had two more children, our "rainbow babies." I remember the radiographer saying "unfortunately there's no heartbeat" and just feeling totally helpless. And that was an important concept to grasp - this was no one's fault, and there's nothing we could have done to prevent it. I wish you well with what you're now going through. Acknowledgement of your heartache is so important so cry lots, talk about it, look after yourself, exercise, eat well, and get lots of support if you can.

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 15 Jan 2017 - 10:25

      I just read your post and very sadly I also went into hospital on 2 January 2017 when I was concerned about lack of my baby girl's movements (I was 29 weeks exactly and due in March). She had passed that evening and was delivered by c section on 4 January. I fully understand the utter pain and devastation that stillbirth causes. My husband and I miss our beautiful baby girl every second and keep thinking how will we ever get through this as it feels like a nightmare that doesn't end. We have very supportive family and friends and have contacted SANDS and other charities to try and help get us through this awful time. Take care and sending you thoughts during this time.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 16 Jan 2017 - 09:41

      Hi there. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It must be utterly heartbreaking experience for you, your partner and your family and our hearts go out to you. But posting your story and talking about your daughter,means that she is still present, talked about and loved. Please feel free to call us on 0800 0147800 if you want to talk to a midwife for support/advice.

    • By louise (not verified) on 26 Nov 2016 - 16:44

      I lost my baby girl on the 30th October 2016, she was born premature at 34 weeks due to plecenta paveria major. Friday the 28th i could not pump out enough milk for her and i askedthe hospital to put her on prenan, they did not tell me that the bad part will be that i will lose her due to NEC. Sayerday the 29th she was rushed back to NICU. They told me about the condition NEC, and how fatal it is on the 30th quarter pass six the morning she passed away. I feel and know i am a bad mother for letting her down giving her formula milk. I will never be able to forgive myself

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 28 Nov 2016 - 10:12

      Hi Louise.
      I'm so sorry to hear about the passing of your lovely baby daughter last month. You did not cause your daughter to pass away, NEC is an often very complicated condition. Grief will make you feel guilt, guilt that you have no need to feel, but it is a normal emotion in the grieving process. Please feel free to call us on 0800 0147800 to speak to a midwife. You can also email us on [email protected] if you feel more comfortable with that. It sounds as if you need to talk things through with someone. Please look after yourself! I hope to hear from you soon if you feel a chat might help. Sending my condolences and love.

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 24 Nov 2016 - 00:58

      I lost my baby in April. Me & my husband had a cremation for our baby. We have one son who is 4 years old & it absolutely broke our hearts losing a baby and having to explain to a four year old why he's not going to be a big brother anymore. I do see a counsellor which helps me so much, but it's hard as my family ignore what has happened and friends are falling pregnant & announcing due dates like crazy. I take comfort in my husband and my son & that I'm here, strong, living, loving & willing to try again one day.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 24 Nov 2016 - 10:59

      Sincere condolences to you and your husband. I am pleased to hear that you are seeing a counsellor as unfortunately it is very common for families to find it difficult to discuss grief with you. You would be welcome to call our midwives on 0800 0147 800. We are here Monday to Friday 9-5pm.

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 17 Nov 2016 - 07:36

      i lost my beautiful daughter 3weeks ago- i think about her all the time, i picture her tiny little face and i cannot help but miss her every single day... i was induced and gave birth to her at exactly 20 weeks....

      i just want to let you ladies know- that WE DID NOTHING that could have prevented what had happened, this was all part of God's plans for our lives....

      we all have angels in heaven who will greet us at the gates when it is our time to join them!

      stay strong ladies <3

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 17 Nov 2016 - 15:48

      So sorry to hear of your loss. With love from Tommy's midwives

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 2 Jan 2017 - 04:27

      I lost my beautiful baby girl on November 18, 2016, I was 39 1/2 weeks along just 4 days shy of her due date, I was devastated. After finding out she didn't have a heartbeat they induced me. After she was born I couldn't put her down, she was so beautiful so perfect, I wanted to keep her forever, but i knew that I couldn't. My beautiful baby girl was born into heaven and I know God and his angels are taking care of her until I'm called home, and I can hold her once again. I miss her so very much.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Jan 2017 - 16:23

      Thank you for your beautiful and moving letter. So sorry to hear about her. Our thoughts are with her and with you. x

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 11 Oct 2016 - 15:25

      No words can express how sorry we are for your loss . You have to allow yourself time to grieve and by pumping your breast milk this will only prolong the agony, although I can truly empathize with why you want to do this. The whole situation is devastating for you - with a long labour and now planning a funeral. It must all feel so wrong.. You may find it helpful to talk to one of our Midwives on the Tommy's helpline at this difficult time - 08000147800 or the SANDS Helpline 0207 463 5881. SANDS has a great supportive network which both your and your partner may find helpful. (www.uk-sands.org). You need to look after yourself as well, to help you get through this.. you are stronger than you think..

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 22 Aug 2016 - 20:16

      Hi,
      I had just delivered my son last Wednesday, on my anomaly scan I came to know that I have oligohydramnios and was in IUGR and absence of diastolic flow in umbilical cord, we have been told to terminate the pregnancy, but we continued with it I was 26week pregnant when my baby's heartbeat was stopped it was devastating then I had deal with labour, it is awful experience and your body constantly remind you of your loss

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 13 Sep 2016 - 12:22

      hello,
      i also lost my baby at 26 weeks pregnancy due to hypertension just 2 months ago. to make it worse i had a c-section which keeps on reminding me of the terrible ordeal. it`s really devastating. i do understand how it really feels. am so sorry for your loss. may God help us cope with the situation.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Sep 2016 - 13:09

      I am so very sorry for your loss.. I can only imagine how devastating it must be to have the reminder of it all through your cesarean section scar....Have you contacted SANDS.. They have a helpline which you may find useful :-0207 4365881
      Although Counselling will not take away your pain, it may help you cope better whilst you grieve. Ask your GP to refer you for Counselling or contact www.tamba.org.uk. They are a bereavement support group and may be able to help.

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 22 Aug 2016 - 20:14

      Hi,
      I had just delivered my son last Wednesday, on my anomaly scan I came to know that I have oligohydramnios and was in IUGR and absence of diastolic flow in umbilical cord, we have been told to terminate the pregnancy, but we continued with it I was 26week pregnant when my baby's heartbeat was stopped it was devastating then I had deal with labour, it is awful experience and your body constantly remind you of your loss

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 24 Aug 2016 - 10:43

      Hi, I'm so very sorry to hear about the loss of your baby boy. I can only imagine how traumatic and shocked you must be just days after losing him.
      Please call us here at Tommy's on 0800 0147 800 or contact the charity SANDS www.uk-sands.org to speak with someone who has been through the experience of losing a baby 0207 436 5881.
      There is a lot of support out there which you can access when you are ready.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 2 Aug 2016 - 13:22

      No words can express how sorry we are for your loss . You have to allow yourself time to grieve & having a supportive partner is great, but you may find it helpful to talk to one of our Midwives on the Tommy's helpline - 08000147800 or the SANDS Helpline 0207 463 5881. SANDS has a great supportive network which both your and your partner may find helpful. (www.uk-sands.org)

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 31 Jul 2016 - 04:33

      It will be 2 weeks Tuesday when we learned our baby was dead and I had to have an emergency c-section. I held his lifeless little perfect body in my arms. A week ago we buried him. I just wish I could wake up from this nightmare. I scream but I can't wake up. My boyfriend and I are closer than ever. He has been so wonderful and right by my side. We just cry and hold on to each other. It's hard going to my oldest football practice and watch all the boys and know my baby won't ever be able to enjoy playing football with his older brother. I try to stay strong for my living son. He still sees me breakdown.

    • By [email protected]'s on 19 Jul 2016 - 09:39

      Hi,
      We are so very sorry for your loss. If you would like to talk to one of our midwives please call 0800 0147 800. Or email us at [email protected] with your number and we will call you back.

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 Jul 2016 - 22:27

      I just gave birth to my baby but it die in my arms last night

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