Helping Parents Who Have Lost A Child

A painful aspect of when a baby dies is that often the friends and family don’t know what to do or say that will support the parents.

Sadly what often happens is that the family and friends are so uncomfortable, they say nothing and stay away, heightening the parents’ pain and feelings of isolation. 

We asked our followers on facebook for suggestions of what works and what doesn’t work when supporting a family whose child has died and a friend of Heartfelt and a mother who needed our service searched through the responses to create suggestions of how to best support a family.

The Deafening Silence - Stillbirth

This short film commissioned by the charity Abigail's Footsteps is about stillbirth through the eyes of a mother. Aimed at midwives and any other staff that work in a maternity ward to help them better understand good and bad practice in relation to a stillbirth or neo-natal death but valuable for anyone who works with or is in contact with families experiencing these circumstances.
Please visit if you would like to know more about the charity or make a donation.


10 ways to help a grieving parent

1. Be there for the long haul. Grief lasts a lifetime and the grieving will need different things from you as time moves on.

2. Grief is like a rollercoaster. It is not linear. Grieving parents will have good days and bad days. Ride the bumps with them.

3. Attend the funeral or memorial service and help out in any way you can. Show your support early.

4. Be practical. Cook meals, run errands, entertain other children. Do whatever you can to help, guided by what the parents are comfortable with.

5. Familiarise yourself with what the parents may want or need. Even a simple “Google” search on what to say to grieving parents is a great start.

6. Don’t offer advice or counsel. Unless you have been in their shoes, you are not going to know how they are feeling. Instead, be available and listen. 

7. Don’t be afraid to talk about the child. Remember birthdays, anniversaries or due dates and ask to look at pictures – the parents will love you for it.

8. Give space when needed. Some parents will want space and to be alone to grieve in private. Don’t take it personally. Respect their way of grieving.

9. Don’t disappear. When parents are ready to face the world again, be there for them. The world can be a lonely place when your child dies.

10. Be mindful of your own children/pregnancies and good news. Grieving parents may find your own good fortune hard to stomach for a little while.

10+ things not to say to a grieving parent

1. “Your child is in a better place or with God”. Religious platitudes are rarely helpful and are often a mismatch for a parent’s beliefs. There is no better place for a child than in their parents’ arms.

2. “You’re young, you can have another”. One child does not replace the other and the grieving parent wants the child they lost, not another child.

3. “I know how you feel”. Unless you have held your own dead child or attended their funeral, you don’t.

4. “Time heals all wounds”. Time will soften the edges of your grief, but it won’t take away the pain.

5. “You need to move on”. There is no getting over the death of a child. You simply learn to live with it and it becomes part of your new normal.

6. “This must be so hard for your wife”. Don’t forget, dads grieve too. Don’t just ask after the grieving mother, ask how the dad is feeling as well.

7. “I could never survive what you have”. The grieving parents probably didn’t think they could survive it either, but they got no choice.

8. “At least you have older children”. The love for each of our children is different and unique. The hurt is the same, regardless of birth order.

9. Nothing. Saying something is always better than saying nothing. If you really can’t think of anything to say, just say you’re sorry.

10. “It obviously wasn’t meant to be”. Regardless of whether our children were very sick or died unexpectedly, they were always meant to be.

11. “All things happen for a reason”. This implies that the parents have done a great wrong to have this happen to them.

Here are the original comments;

  • Donna Gillespie Do- Acknowledge the loss is real and a miscarriage is not a medical condtion but the death of a much loved child xo
    about an hour ago · 
  • Linda Moxham My baby did exist, I carried it within my body and I still think about her every single day, it upsets me that because it was 10 years ago people feel I should get over it and not discuss it anymore, I would like them to walk a mile in the shoes of someone who has lost a baby
    about an hour ago · 
  • Gail Clark I lost my son 11 weeks ago and the one thing that has annoyed me no end, is the amount of people who say "I can only imagine how you must be feeling" I'm sorry but unless you have actually been there, there is NO WAY you can imagine the heart ache I am feeling right now.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Katherina Bilko I think just turning up (if you are close enough) is good and then just doing an hour of housework (whatever is needed because there will always be heaps to do when parents are grieving) is a great idea. The meals are also a blessing.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Penni Roden Do take the parents' lead about speaking about the baby - I'm really comfortable talking about my Angel, but my husband isn't, even 10 years on. When people push him, it makes it worse.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Nancy Westcott Don't be afraid to cry - we are all human and it helps others validate their loss
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kerry Dawson DONT say they are perfect now even disabled our child was perfect to us
    about an hour ago · 
  • Julie Mullins Don't say "I know exactly how you feel"
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kirstie Shaw I have an article called 20 things angel parents need you to know - does anyone want me to post it?
    about an hour ago · 
  • Jill Barton always remember them in yrs to come, its not a 12mth thing
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kirsty Powell A friend of mine said don't act like their baby didn't exist, don't not mention him/her for fear of reminding or bringing up memories etc because they are always there regardless.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Heartfelt Yes thanks Kirstie
    about an hour ago · 
  • Claire George Please use our babies name, and don't refer to him sheepishly as "the baby" or "you know"
    about an hour ago · 
  • Belinda Lindhardt I agree with all of the above, i have to say people who didnt call or ring or chose to not to discuss it because they didnt want to upset me made it worst. Those who rang and just said "I am so sorry" that was all i needed and wanted and appreciated them for at least ringing and saying that.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Rachel Harris Besides the two dont's above, my other big no-no was someone saying you're young, you can try again. People didn't realise that after being told I couldn't conceive without IVF how much this meant to my partner and I to do this on our own only to have it taken away. All I asked was that people play their own devils advocate and think of the worst way what they are about to say can be taken. My best friend did the best thing she could. She cooked dinner, put on a crappy movie, handed me wine and let me cry without saying a single word
    about an hour ago · 
  • Sam Olsen Dont ask when we are having another baby. We wanted the one we lost, she cant be replaced.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Theresa Carter Always mention the child by name and if at work at least acknowledge that a child was born and died. Bringing it up does that cause pain to parents, it is far more painful if you say nothing.

    Ask how the Father is, many many people ask the Father how the wife is but not many at all ask how we are. We have feelings too and need to be acknowledged. 

    Offer practical support, bring food, offer to mow the lawns or take surviving children to the park. Everyday tasks are almost impossible for bereaved parents to do. Offer to help practically instead of just saying if you need anything ring me. Grief makes it hard to make decisions and while it may sound easy to ring and say do something its not for hurting parents. If you offer I am sure they will be pleased and accept your offer. 

    Last but not least don’t forget about bereaved parents, our loss does not just get better or we don’t ever get over it. Every special day or anytime we see a child that age we still hurt. Offer a kind word or a hug it will mean the world to sad parents.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Justin Stent Dont say 'it'll be OK', 'you'll get over it' or - as mentioned above - expect the grieving to end. People usually get better at coping with it, but it never goes away. There's no time limit to grieving.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Sinead Dunn That every emotion you experience is real and justified and human....even the dark ones, the spiteful envy you may feel towards another pregnant woman, the dark anger...everything is justified and needs to be expressed and experienced. I hope that was worded ok.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Erin Hartigan Don't say " they are with god now- he needed them in heaven". Especially if they aren't 'friends' with god!

    A simple I'm sorry! Nothing anyone says makes you feel any better.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Sarah Scott My girlfriend Kristine Brite McCormick wrote this. It is powerful and true ♥ 2011/06/ ten-things-not-to-say-to-ba by-loss.html
    about an hour ago · 
  • Libby McDonald i agree with penni in taking the parents lead one of my best friends lost her angel at birth they revived her but with problems and she left us at 8 1/2 months i was there for her day in and out during and after and after i would include her name in cards and talking but didnt relize it was hurting my friend she didnt want to acknowledge anything but then dont forget they existed either ......another thing is sometimes just being there is enough......and people should know the stages of grief are not set they can skip steps go back go forward and its a rollercoaster there not just going to get through all the steps and be over it ,, sincerest sympathies for all of you
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kirrily Whatman Don't expect your loved one to be the same person once they "get over it". The reality is, this has changed them and it will take some time before they return to anywhere near their usual self.
    Dont put a time frame on their healing or assume anything with regards to how long it would take you to grieve/how long you think they should need. Bad days are going to happen - and randomly, even amongst what seem like great days - for some time (perhaps years, depending on the nature of the loss).

    DO go easy on the bereaved parents. Give them a break at every turn. You may think this is like a Get Out Of Jail Free card for them..... but what a very high price they have paid for such allowances from you.
    Give them a break, but not necessarily distance - try to keep communication open so you can more easily understand how to help (or not help!).

    Hope this helps, Gavin. List is endless, really! What a wonderful addition to the website x
    about an hour ago · 
  • Malcolm Garth Don't say to the parents "just take it one day at a time". Do remember that you may never get over it/understand it but you will be able to function "normally" and remember without pain eventually... And understand that people say stupid stuff because we're bad at dealing with grief... Just listen...
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kirstie Shaw I posted it on heartfelts wall xx
    about an hour ago · 
  • Nikki Howden I agree with all of the above. But another one (which I don't think was mentioned) was "at least you still have another 4 kids at home ".... or another one " imagine how hard it would have been for you if the baby had survived being that you already have 4 kids" - I have to say that the last one really took the cake - especially because we lost our little girl at 36 weeks (her name is Chance), and she was conceived through IVF - we were well aware of the hard work ahead.
    about an hour ago · 
  • CherieMarie Erekson worst thing ever said to me, on more than one occasion has been; just be happy it happened now and not further down the road when you where attached to it... big no~no.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Heartfelt Thanks Kirstie Shaw
    about an hour ago · 
  • Alysha Khokhar Don't tell stories that start with 'I know this lady...' because no one's stories are the same and even though you mean well, it doesn't help. I got that so many times after both my miscarriages and it drove me a little crazy since I didn't know what would happen and those stories just made me feel like just a bit more of a failure, especially after the 2nd time around.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Zoe Lyon Don't ignore them. We lost a few friends because they didn't know what to say so they stayed away from us. I really appreciated the people that said "I'm sorry I don't know what to say".
    about an hour ago · 
  • Heartfelt One I had was, "I know exactly how you feel, the same thing happened to me when my dog died" GB
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kristal Robinson Do: as a photographer who focuses on weddings, go take photos at 2am when they ring you and ask! DO talk about the child, they are REAL people! My sister in law hated that no one else other than me would talk about my niece ( and i still do ).
    about an hour ago · 
  • Mellisa Moulden I lost my lil girl 36 weeks 8 weeks ago she was fine at 1st and I end up dieing twice and now im here and my babys not.i realy hate ppl saying its ok atleast your here its not atall ok
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kelly Ann Don't say "You're lucky you've already got one child". While that may be true, I don't need to be made feel guilty for mourning the loss of my much wanted and loved baby.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Lia Healy Don't not tell them about your pregnancy or child news. It makes you feel more isolated than you already felt to hear about someone's baby news third hand. But please be tactful about going on about it. Do not tell someone who lost a child about your abortion you just had because you didn't want your baby at that point, or how you're pregnant right now but you're not sure if you're really into the whole pregnancy. Do not say "well at that age it wasnt really a baby". :(
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kristan Kershaw Acknowledge their due date if it was a loss before the due date. Even if you don't know the exact date, send a message saying that you are thinking of them at that time.

    I had one friend remember the time of year when my ectopic baby would have been due, and that made me feel cared for. That one little message. My husband didn't even remember, but she did.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Renée Faithfull I don't know from experience, what it is like to lose a child. While there are some heartless and thoughtless people out there that say the most awful things, there are the people that say the most heart breaking things without even realising it because they simply just don't understand the situation enough. Having close family that have lost babies, I understand how sensitive the issue is, and how it never goes away, but I have seen some of the nicest people go and say the wrong thing without even noticing. I just thought I'd remind people of that, even though it would be a hard thing to remember when you are grieving.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Karina Mercer mmm my MIL said before I lost my baby (we knew it was going to happen): "don't worry, it'll be alright, you can have another". I broke down at that point, and my FIL wrapped me in a huge hug (our first real emotional contact) and said crossly to her before breaking down himself: "no it won't it'll never be alright again, because they're losing a child".
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kirsten Pini Give some space!...practical help- cleaning, grocery shopping, weed the garden/mow the lawns etc...don't tell them what they should and shouldn't be doing (I.e- you need a nanna nap and then take other kids out, it can be a good thing but when the mum or dad want not when others think it's necessary!)..remember that people can still make their own decisions and never assume anything...don't try control how the grieving people are grieving, and don't make judgement on how they are/are not coping to their face!
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kristy Greenhatch Make time for The grieving parents without children around and Don't push your children on grieving parents. Having a friends newborn thrust into my arms weeks after losing my full term bub was such an upsetting and horrid experience.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Leighanne Grant Don't tell me I'm lucky to have other children. All of my children are loved and wanted, and having other children does not make my loss any easier.
    Don't ask how far along in my pregnancy I was, and then when I tell you 21 1/2 weeks comment that you know someone who lost a baby full-term and follow that up with "can you imagine how that would feel"
    Don't tell me you know how I feel because your mother/father/grandparent died and you were very close to them...this does not compare to losing your child.
    Don't ask me "wasn't there anything they could do to save your baby"
    about an hour ago · 
  • Kristie Tatton I have a huge list. I am on a train right noe but will go through the comments and will send through extras
    about an hour ago · 
  • Heartfelt I do think most people's intentions are to make a difference with the parents but because few people understand the grief and are terrified of saying the wrong thing, they sometimes say incredibly insensitive things. GB
    about an hour ago · 
  • Sheryl Pyers I have a friend who i just learnt tonight that she not only lost her child but had to have an emergency hysterectomy.I would like to say that their is not very much that you can say,holding hugging,feeling their pain and being there is the best you can do...pray also.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Jade Anderson We haven't lost a baby/child to sickness in our family but we lost one of my twin baby sisters at 12 weeks to SIDS and my mum bought a pretty box an put all her things in it example death certificate, first bear, lock of hair the foot and hand print folder they gave her at the hospital her dummy belly button clip hospital bands and a note she wrote an it would sit in a familiar spot and we are going to give it to her twin sister when she gets older.
    about an hour ago · 
  • Marcelle Beeftink ‎"It was for the best" was the worst someone said to me. "She's in a better place" was another... There is no better place than with her mother
    59 minutes ago · 
  • Nikki Howden Since Chance passing away last March, I have had a couple of friends become pregnant. I really appreciated that they contacted me just to touch base, remember Chance, then gently let me know that they are pregnant. They let me know before they blurted their exciting news to everyone else because they didn't want it to seem like their news was just being shoved into my face without any thoughts about how it might make me feel. Because of their consideration for me, I was able to give them a genuine congratulations, even though they understood my weepy eyes.
    57 minutes ago · 
  • Jacqueline Pelletier Don't use religious statements or send religious cards unless you know for a fact the family is observant. I got a lot of "Aw, well, you have a guardian angel now," "It's okay, she's in heaven," comments as well as religious cards and angel mementoes sent to me. Even the local baby loss organization sent me material that was incompatible with my spiritual beliefs and didn't provide much comfort those first weeks.
    52 minutes ago · 
  • Valerie KErr Doctor patted my hand and said chin up....... I wouldn't suggest it ;)
    Maybe some tips for the dads would be helpful because they can freely pretty isolated and not know what to do or say also. And while grieving themselves. My husband's way of helping me was to look after his own meals etc which was done with the best intentions, but my discharge instructions were to rest and takes meda with meals so preparing meals is such a great thing you can do for the mum, especially if she still has other children to look after.
    51 minutes ago · 
  • Renee Jomaa Don't ever say it gets better with time or time heals all things. No time eases losing my baby as yours all grow up around me as the ever present reminder of our milestones missed. I just mask my pain better or weep alone at night because I think I should.
    49 minutes ago · 
  • Sarah Williams Just knowing people were there for me was the best thing, and acknowledging my daughter and speaking her name was helpful as well. Rip Leila ♥
    49 minutes ago · 
  • Tenielle Reid Check with the parents what their boundaries are, especially concerning other children. I personally could only stand to have one particular cousin's baby near me, and not any other family members' babies for some reason.

    Also, no matter how much you think you're doing a nice thing for them, do not take the initiative and pack up the baby's room if Mum's still in hospital. It feels as though you're trying to hide the fact the baby ever existed.
    48 minutes ago · 
  • Erin Hartigan We have some stuff on here Gavin that you are welcome to For-Family---Friends.html
    42 minutes ago · 
  • Tiffany Tregenza Don't avoid the parents because it makes you feel uncomfortable and then tell them that's the reason why. Don't expect them to get over it. You never do. Don't tell them they are lucky they have other kids, they are not some consolation prize. Remember birthdays, anniversaries, special days. Remember that it's okay for the parents to laugh and feel okay. Grief isn't all day every day but if they are having a bad day, be open to them wanting to talk about it. Sometimes "I'm sorry" is enough. Food is good, especially after the immediate grieving time. It took me about six months before I could make anything more than basic food for my family. Don't ask the parents to ask for help. They won't. They won't know how to and they won't want to burden anyone. Sometimes, sitting outside in the sun, without saying anything is enough.
    41 minutes ago · 
  • Kristin Goodhew I would just like to say I think this is a great idea I have not yet had a child myself but last year a friend of mine lost her son and when she told me I really didn't know what to say to help her or let her know I was there but I just didn't want to say the wrong thing to upset her... On his due date I sent her a message to see if she was ok and to let her know I was thinking of her... However, I was still stuck at Christmas time on whether to include her lil man in the Christmas card in the end I only wrote to her,husband and existing child who's 4 but reading the above comments I've realized I should have included him as well... So I think this is going to help alot of people from saying the wrong thing or feeling like they have done the wrong thing to help there family and friends. ;) because the last thing I want to do is cause more hurt so thanks for all the advice.
    38 minutes ago · 
  • Petrina McDonald DO say "I really don't know what to say" when you don't know what to say. It's honest and it's a starting point. It's better than saying nothing and pretending that nothing has happened.
    37 minutes ago · 
  • Tiffany Tregenza Just thought of another. Even if you find the photos of the baby confronting, keep it to yourself. Try to see what the parents see - their son or daughter, a beautiful baby that never had the chance to be all he could be.
    36 minutes ago · 
  • Kristie Tatton Do.. Send a card telling them your pregnancy news. It allows them time to process and cry and grieve alone.

    Don't... Say it is better their child died than end up disabled 

    Do... Cook some meals and just leave them on the doorstep.. Weeks or months later too

    Don't... be afraid to mention the baby's name in fear of hurting the parents. We are already hurting... And will alway hurt. 

    Do... Send thoughtful gifts to Say you are thinking of us. A child dying is a lonely road. 

    Don't... (for hospital workers) do anything to the child or their belongings WITHOUT gaining parents ok first. Your 'thoughtfulness' may cause insurmountable pain

    Do... Include the baby on Christmas cards. In letters... Send birthday cards... Remember special and important dates.

    Don't... Assume parents know what they want in their time of grief. (hospital workers) we have nor travelled this road before. We need guidance and contacts.. Provide us with numbers and websites of possible services. 

    Do... Look at our photos, no matter now distressing you find them. And tell us our child is precious and beautiful..

    Don't... Automatically call them angels... This can be distressing for those of different faiths. Say you will pray for us, but not that they are with God. Child death is a time of questioning faith for many. 

    Do... Just sit and listen. 1 month... One year... 10 years... we all need to let the tears fall...

    Don't... tell me there is a reason for everything. There is never a food reason for a baby to die.

    Do... Celebrate any new babies as special in their own right. They are not a replacement. They are not wanted more or less than the other baby. They are a precious gift that deserves to be in the spotlight and not the shadow...

    I have more. But this will do for now...
    35 minutes ago · 
  • Justin Stent Lots of great advice. One reminded me that people often don't know that all the reactions, thoughts and feelings they are having are almost certainly normal, but people often have expectations of themselves and how they should react/feel, how long it should last for etc.... This doesn't always match with reality - leading to self-criticism, guilt, even self-loathing. Seek professional advice if you think they are at risk, but unless you are certain of otherwise, reassure people that how they are feeling is OK and normal.
    34 minutes ago · 
  • Mandy Jessop Dont say 'it wasn't meant to be' its like saying my child never existed and she did I held her in my arms.
    Do say 'when your ready I would like to hear about her' I just want to talk about how beautiful my daughter is.
    32 minutes ago · 
  • Catherine Godward I recently did a course in Reference Point Therapy. It's for healing Trauma(Emotional, Physical, the lot) One aspect is to imagine you are the other person/ client(Ho'oponopono in Hawaiian) . You will feel what your opposite(or 10000km away) is feeling if you tune into this person. You will know what to say! In this course I also let go of my grief of an unborn child, grief i didnt even know was still there! Have the courage to say what YOU feel and not what you think society would say...
    30 minutes ago · 
  • Lee Illfield Great idea. Such wonderful support. Thankyou :)
    28 minutes ago · 
  • Danielle Kessner Don't say "You are so strong. If it was me I would be ......" You have no idea how you would be and no matter the public face 'we' put on we generally feel anything but strong.
    27 minutes ago · 
  • Tegan Small I think its also important to remember that grandparents uncles and aunts grieve too they were also looking forward to what might have been its only now i realise that although i was grieving so too were both our parents who lost their first grandchild.
    27 minutes ago · 
  • Nell McLean Don't expect the parents to feel like going out to visit people or be social, i know i didn't want to and 5 months on i still don't want to go out in public much just want to stay home. Do make an effort to call in and help them out with cooking, cleaning, watching other kids whatever they need. The meals we received were a God send. The longer its been the harder its gets especially at holiday times parents need more support so do be there for them then. Don't avoid the parents because u don't know what to say. That makes them think u don't care about them.
    23 minutes ago · 
  • Myka Copeland Definately take the parents lead as every person and every family are so different in the way the deal with things and also the issues surrounding their baby becoming an angel. We personally as a couple talk about our son basically everday, all our friends and family also do but i know others who prefer in socisl situations not to mention theirs.
    I think just spend time is the best thing, and no that even 5 years down the track it still cuts deep as the day it happened
    18 minutes ago · 
  • Julie Mullins People say dumb things because they don't know what to to be honest and say I don't know what to say...nothing you say will make a parents grief easier...
    18 minutes ago · 
  • Lynda Yardley I stopped talking to people all together :(
    18 minutes ago · 
  • Cecilia Cyntia Don't..... Talk about abortion. If the development of the baby is not smooth, at least don't act like a doctor who advises the pregnant mother. She will decide for herself. I become distant with all family who advise me like that. At least I want to fight for my baby until the point I can't anymore. 
    Every baby is different. She/he is unreplaceable in the parent's heart, esp for the baby's mother.
    16 minutes ago · 
  • Rachel Lowden Dont not contact us just because you havent been through it. My MIL and FIL were some of th1st peopln to find out they looked after our son. Then after that they didnt contact at all until we rang to tell them about the funeral. She said she hadnt been through it so didn't ring.
    10 minutes ago · 
  • Sheryl Pyers Lovely ladies i couldn't read though it all because i have lost and it hurt but.....Just let me say empathy...holding and feeling are better than talking.
    4 minutes ago · 
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