Guidance for Other Family

Sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and wider family members may all feel a range of emotions following a stillbirth in their family. It may be difficult to know what to do to help, and what not to do, while you are coping with grief yourself. LOLA hopes to give you guidance on how you can relate to a family member who has suffered the loss of their baby; things that will be helpful, and things you may want to avoid. We have also suggested ways you can give practical support.

Providing Support

It is likely the bereaved parents will be in a state of deep shock and grief following the loss of their baby. Here are five simple ways you can offer support.

1. Take your cues from the bereaved parent. Many parents are longing to share their experience of losing their baby, and although this might be uncomfortable for you, if that’s what they are indicating, try not to avoid them; take the time to listen to their story and share their experience. When you are talking about their baby, don’t be afraid to use his or her name, if you know it; doing so is likely to honour their child and acknowledge the deep loss they feel. On the other hand, if your family member wants to be alone, let them take that time to grieve, without judgment. If they don’t want to share information, don’t press them and don’t be offended by any need they have to be private. And recognise they may feel private one day, and like sharing the next. Their cues may change and their experience of grief will not necessarily be consistent.

2. Stay in touch. Don’t avoid your family member because you don’t know what to say, or because they haven’t been in touch with you. Don’t assume because they haven’t responded to a message that they don’t need you. Keep, gently, supporting them. Regularly let them know you are there, although they need only respond when they are ready. When you are in touch, don’t be afraid of talking about their loss, letting them know their baby is loved and missed by you too. Doing so will honour them, their loss and the life of their precious, missing child.

3. Don’t have any expectations. Whether that is of their mood, or their response to an offer of help, or anything else. Certainly don’t expect them to support you through your grief at their loss. And tell them that you don’t have any expectations too; let them know you are there for them.

4. Offer practical support. This is particularly important in the early days after the loss of a baby, when bereaved parents will probably find it very difficult to do everyday things like shopping, cooking, looking after other children or animals, or cleaning the house. If they need to go into hospital to deliver their stillborn baby at short notice, help with childcare and care for pets will be particularly important to them. Unless your family member has indicated they need complete privacy, making yourself available to help with other day to day things is likely to be really welcome; drop food off (and this can even be done long distance, with a ready made meal delivery – research options in their area) and offer to help with other practical jobs that might need doing around the house.

5. Remember milestones. Special days, like due dates, birthdays, Christmas Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even times when a stillborn baby might have started nursery, or school, are all likely to be very difficult for a bereaved parent. In addition, the birth of other children in the family may also act as a reminder for them of their deep and enduring loss. It will be helpful if you can be aware of the timing of these sorts of milestones and acknowledge how difficult they might be for the bereaved parents. Don’t be afraid to let them know you are thinking of them and that you are remembering their baby, and offer support.

Things to Avoid

In providing support to a bereaved family member, there are some things it is probably best to avoid. In particular, it is best to avoid anything that might indicate the loss of the baby can be replaced by having another child, or that the loss was ‘meant to be’, including for children with a severe illness. Any indication that the loss of the baby is ‘for the best’, or that the parents will ‘get over’ their loss, even in time, will be really unhelpful, and risk causing deep offence.

Future pregnancies may also be very difficult and require some sensitivity. Your family member may not wish to discuss this openly with you and it is likely to be best not to talk to them about this, unless they raise it. If they do get pregnant again, they are also likely to find that pregnancy very stressful and it is important to understand that they will not view either the new pregnancy or the new baby as erasing their pain or grief of their missing child. In fact, the birth of a new baby may bring with it more grief, acting as a very tangible reminder of the baby who has died.

Other Guidance

Dealing with your own grief following a stillbirth in your family can be difficult to navigate while you are trying to offer support to your bereaved family member. Most of all, it is important that you have your own sources of support, so that you can cope with your own feelings, too.

Here we have provided other family members’ stories, in the hope they will be supportive and informative for you.

In addition, this leaflet gives a lot more detailed guidance for friends and families on how to support bereaved parents following the loss of their baby.

You can also look at for really helpful  guidance on the grief that parents are experiencing, and may find their webpage  'What do I say?'  along with this resource on the Sands website useful to help find the right words, when someone has lost a baby.