When a Baby Dies
The death of a baby before or soon
after its birth is always a difficult loss. You may be the mother
or father of the baby, or perhaps his or her grandparent, or
brother or sister. Whatever your relationship to the baby, you are
the only person who fully understands what the loss means to you,
and how you feel.
Grief is our natural reaction to loss in our lives and everyone
experiences it differently. Right now, and in the weeks and months
to come, you may feel very sad and empty, with a great longing for
your baby. You may feel relief, particularly if the pregnancy was
unplanned or difficult. You may find yourself feeling very angry,
guilty, frightened or bewildered. Feelings like these are very
painful but they are normal.
As time goes by, though you will not forget your baby, the pain
of your loss will get easier to bear. Coping with your loss and
accepting it doesn't mean getting over it and feeling OK about it.
It means you are finding ways to live with it. While there will
always be things that will remind you of your baby and your
feelings, there will also be many happy times to come in the
Acknowledging your baby's life
For many people one of the hardest parts of grieving for a baby
is the lack of acknowledgement of their loss from other people.
Somehow it seems hard for others to imagine that the loss of
someone so tiny can cast such a big shadow.
You however, may have known about your baby for some time. If
you are the mother, you may have felt him or her growing and moving
inside your body, and have been aware of his or her presence in
your life. You may have begun to think of yourself as a mother,
father, sister, brother or grandparent of this baby, and imagined
and planned for a future with him or her as part of your family.
The loss of your baby is also the loss of your hopes and dreams
about him or her. Your baby's life may have been very brief, but it
is still very important to you and is a part of the story of your
As parents, choosing a name for your baby, no matter how short
his or her life was, is an important way of remembering that life
in this world, and in your life.
Choosing a service
For many parents, a ceremony that acknowledges the life and
death of their baby is a way of marking the dignity and importance
of that life. You can choose to have a service regardless of how
old your baby was at birth, or how he or she died. You may choose
to have a small, informal ceremony at home, on the Marae or
somewhere that is special to you. You may prefer the chapel at the
funeral home or hospital, or a funeral in a church. However you
choose to do it, a ceremony gives you an opportunity to acknowledge
your baby and share your grief with others.
If your baby was born when you were 20 weeks pregnant or more,
or weighed at least 400 grams, or if he or she took a breath after
the birth then you are legally required to have him or her cremated
or buried in a cemetery. In some cemeteries, you can choose to have
your baby buried in a place specially set aside for children. It
may be possible to have your baby buried in a plot that allows
space for another burial later. (Different cemeteries have
different by-laws.) If your baby is cremated you can keep the ashes
at home, scatter them somewhere special to you, or put them in the
place set aside for children's ashes at the cemetery. Ask your
funeral director what the options are where you live.
Babies born before you were 20 weeks pregnant can also be
cremated or buried. If your baby was this old, you can choose to
bury it wherever you wish. Some families choose a place at home
under a tree, or under a large potted plant which can be taken with
you if you move.
Spending time with your baby
It is usually possible to have your baby with you, no matter how
small, for some time before he or she is buried or cremated. Small
babies who have just been born are not normally embalmed and if
your baby is very tiny, try wrapping him or her in a blanket.
Parents often find this time with their baby very comforting as it
gives them an opportunity to hold and care for their little one, to
say goodbye and begin the process of loving him or her in their
If you have older children, encourage them to see the baby. Talk
to them beforehand about what to expect, and offer them the chance
to cuddle their brother or sister if they would like to. Take your
time with this - it's the only chance you have to be with your
little one, so make the most of it. If possible have someone take
photographs of you with your baby.
How can you help yourself and each other?
People experience loss differently, and they also have different
ways of coping with it. Many women find it helps to talk a lot
about the baby and their feelings, to cry and let their feelings
For men it is often different - they may find it helps to keep
busy, doing something. They may find it harder to show their
feelings and talk about them. Men also often find that other people
ask about how their partner is coping without seeming to realise
that they are grieving too. Men may feel helpless when they see
their partner so distressed, especially when they can't fix it for
The important thing is to respect and support each other's way
of dealing with this loss. Ask each other what would help most:
time alone; a cuddle; talking about your feelings or some
distraction from them like a movie, or a drive for example. You may
need to ask others to support you as well, when you are each
grieving so intensely.
It's important to take time with this, for women especially, to
recover both physically and emotionally. People grieve at their own
pace, and you may find you are ready to move on to the next part of
your life way before your partner is. Grieving is exhausting - take
care of yourselves, and don't expect too much of yourself for a
Help with funeral expenses
WINZ has a means tested Funeral Grant that may help to cover
funeral expenses if your baby:
- has died after you have been pregnant for 20 weeks or more
- weighs 400 grams or more at birth and;
- takes a breath at the time of birth
Ask your funeral director for information about how to apply for
Further help and information
If you feel worried about yourself or your partner, talk it over
with your doctor or a counsellor. Your funeral director may have a
free bereavement support service, or be able to suggest someone you
can talk to, if you are finding things hard. They may also suggest
or lend you books or videos to help you cope with grief, and they
will know of any support groups such as SANDS (Stillbirth and
Neonatal Death) in your community.