How Others Can Help

Family and friends are often deeply distressed when someone close to them loses a baby. They may feel incredibly helpless and powerless and wonder what they can possibly do to make the family “feel better”. It is often distressing for family and friends that the people closest to them are going through an experience that no one has any control over or can prevent.

Following the death of your baby, you may find that your family and friends have added to your sadness through insensitive remarks and lack of understanding. At the same time the support of family and friends can be invaluable to bereaved parents. Indeed, the support a bereaved family has available from the people around them can greatly affect how a family will “get through” the months ahead.

It may be helpful if you obtain a copy of the Red Nose Grief and Loss booklet To Family and Friends – You can Make a Difference or related articles on our website.

Hurtful comments and actions

You may feel hurt and upset at some things that well-meaning family and friends will say and do following your baby’s death. Some of these may include:

  • Meeting or talking with you and not acknowledging your loss. For many parents it is important to have their loss recognised.
  • Certain sayings that are offered as comfort can also be hurtful to you, such as “You’re young and fertile, you can always have another one”; “You’ve already got two healthy children, maybe this is for the best”; or “Put it behind you and get on with your life”. Whilst these statements may be well intended they often provide little or no comfort.
  • Asking after the welfare of only one of you, either the man or the woman, can be hurtful. It is important to acknowledge that each of you may be grieving in your own way. The question “How are you, and how is….?” demonstrates concern for both parents.
  • Packing away the baby’s nursery or other reminders before you return home from hospital. This is usually done in the belief that it will help ease your pain if there are no reminders of the baby. However, it is often a lesser pain for you to have reminders of your baby around you and for you to pack away nursery and other items when you are ready.
  • Rushing you, expecting that you will have recovered from your experience and be planning for the future in any particular amount of time is also unhelpful. Grieving is individual and you “move on” from your sadness when and how you are able to.

Helpful comments and actions

Sometimes family and friends don’t say anything because they don’t know what to say or they feel awkward and unsure. Family and friends can do many things to support and assist parents, including:

  • Bereaved parents are sometimes reluctant to state their needs. Even given the opportunity to talk, they may not be willing to take the risk for fear of being hurt or embarrassed. However, listening and providing opportunities to talk openly with you will let them know that you care.
  • Talk openly with the parents and let them know if you feel unsure about what to say or do.
  • Visit in hospital or at home, acknowledging the family’s experience and expressing your own feeling of sadness, disbelief and helplessness.
  • Ask questions about the baby and how the parents are feeling.
  • Talk of the baby by name, and of the hopes and dreams you had for the family as the parents of this baby.
  • Read this and other books and articles to learn about bereavement.
  • Make or buy something in memory of the baby. Display it in your home, or give it to the parents.
  • Offer practical help including housework, cooking, childcare etc.
  • Visit the cemetery or place of memorial for the baby.
  • Be available to listen to the parents, often to the same details over and over.
  • Be sensitive to the sometimes unpredictable behaviour of bereaved parents.
  • Understand that sometimes parents will want to be alone.
  • Offer to accompany the parents as a support person to a support group meeting or on a follow-up visit to their health care provider.

While assisting a bereaved family, a supporter needs to have someone who can be available for them to talk with. Along with the carer’s own sadness, supporting others through bereavement may be physically tiring and emotionally draining.

“Friends and family were so helpful providing meals, childcare and comfort, which we will always remember and appreciate.”

This article was prepared using extracts from Stillbirth and Neonatal death1. The full text is available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.

Last reviewed: 21/6/21