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How to Help

There are many types of advice and comments that may come to your mind as you reach out to the parents and their children. Sometimes this advice can actually cause more harm. So be careful. Think through what your intention is – to support and legitimize their pain rather than try to take it away, which you can’t.  After all, when someone is loved deeply (like this baby), they will not, nor should they easily be forgotten. 

Moving on quickly, trying to replace them with another, and not talking about them says the opposite – they weren’t that important, they don’t really matter.   It is like saying this is not the loss of a treasured little one, but a trinket who can easily be replaced or forgotten. Surely, you don’t want to give the parents that kind of message.

Let’s explore the issue of how to understand the parents and how to help.   Comments, advice, and behaviors (including silence) parents receive after having a baby die can be helpful or hurtful.  

Baby’s death from miscarriage, stillbirth, termination of a wanted baby, NICU, is different than an older child.  Why?

After the death, Mom probably has feelings that can be linked to the dramatic hormonal change in her body; she may be extra sensitive about everything (how things are said, what is said, what is NOT DONE or SAID)

Both parents –

  • May wait for others to speak up
  • Hope that others will say helpful, not hurtful things
  • Can be extra critical
  • Are very emotional (inside and/or out)
  • Might be afraid people will forget or won’t ‘go there’
  • Want to hear their baby’s name
  • Are very vulnerable and easily hurt
  • Don’t know what they want or can’t explain it well

Family, Friends, Caregivers often –

  • Are in shock, confused about specifically how to help
  • Afraid they will hurt parents more  (thinking that  silence and waiting for a cue from the parents is best)
  • Protective of parents (trying to figure out what will hurt and what might help)
  • Protective of self (might have own personal issues, it hurts them so you might rather stay in the happy, lighter side of life)
  • Feel inadequate to help – Realistically HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS BETTER?  And if we can’t then what good is trying?
  • Don’t have experience in this type of loss or maybe any loss, so are not familiar with how to help and what to say
  • Might have experience with older deaths and there is an expectation on how to do that…to see, hold, dress, take pictures of a child who is already dead is not in most people’s culture or experience…so it can seem morbid and odd.

This is a very difficult time for all – it is easy to lose friends and family who don’t get it; who say the wrong things; who stay silent due to inexperience, fear, or who are clueless about what they can do to be of comfort.  If you don’t want to see your relationship in turmoil or lost, now is the time to be extra sensitive and aware.

Before reaching out or speaking to bereaved parents/family ask yourself

“What is my intention?”  Explore that thought before you act in a knee jerk fashion and accidently push people away or appear to be judging them.  Is it your intention to help or hurt them?  It is your intention to be a good listener and not tell them what to do?  Is it your intention to be compassionate and validate their feelings, no matter what they are or whether you agree with them or not?

Hurtful comments and behaviors that usually don’t help unless the parents say them first

(They come from eZine # 12 Family & Friends which can be ordered in the eShop.)

1. Minimize the loss; give suggestions of what seems worse

  • You weren’t very far along (suggesting that babies are loved by the amount of time they were in mom’s belly or the length the parents have ‘known’ them)
  • At least not a 3year old whom you knew, that would be harder

       (The size of body, length we know someone does not determine depth of love or time required to grieve well)

  • Be thankful that you have other children or can have other children (as if one can replace another or that there is a guarantee that another child will be conceived and live).

2.   God and His role

  • You have an angel in heaven
  • God must have really wanted her/him,  (Parents must have loved her less than God)
  • She wasn’t meant for this earth
  • Take comfort, since you will see him again

3. Avoidance

  • People avoid bereaved parents at the theater, school, or mall
  • Quiet, don’t say anything
  • Over time baby’s name is said less and less
  • Anniversaries of death, birthdays are forgotten and holidays are supposed to be like before (they never will be like before.  Parents need to find their ‘new normal’ someday, but it will take a long time.  Many still will want the child’s name spoken and for him/her to be remembered always).
  • Don’t invite parents to neighborhood or family events, or even to go out after work  (it feels like Leprosy – a contagious disease)


Most people do not want to hurt bereaved parents on purpose.  If they feel you are too hurtful, they may give up contact or rarely connect with you.  They may need to do this in order to protect themselves.   In an attempt to try to understand how and why you might respond in less-helpful ways…

Practical suggestions—

  •         Be as prepared and intentional before you visit or call.  
  •         This is a DANCE with no specific steps to follow;  read, talk with others, think about what you might want if this had happened to you, then move gently and watch how mom or dad reacts.  Take your cues from them.
  • There are no right answers, but there can be WRONG answers.
  •         Ask what they need, but be prepared that they may not know what they need.  In that case, offer to:
  • Take care of the kids, get things from home,
  • Go shopping for some baby items,
  • Help them find a caring funeral home who specifically is sensitive and has experience with little infants, bring in a camera or video to take pictures of people holding and meeting the baby,
  • Call in their clergy or your clergy
  • Talk about baptism, mementos you or they might like, how to include the other children if there are some…

Read books that help you know what they are going through and check out the resources in this section to learn more on what you can do to help them….AND learn what you can do to help yourself.  This baby is a part of your family, too.