Losing a baby during pregnancy, childbirth or during the period following a birth, can be one of the most profound losses a parent can experience. This is an event which represents the rupture of the emotional bond created between parents and their expected baby, and is also something that can have an emotional impact on the whole family.
As an early years worker, you might find that you encounter a number of families who have experienced this situation. At the end of 2020 we conducted a survey of nursery workers, and 48% of those who responded said that they had worked with children who had experienced the bereavement of either a parent or a sibling.
Here we offer some advice on how you can help support parents in this situation.
You can also click here to view our webinar in which Claudia de Campos talks about how to support both parents and children who may be affected by this situation.
- Emotional responses
Parents may experience different feelings around the loss of a baby. Bereavement reactions may include denying the loss, confusion and shock. Other emotional reactions include getting angry or irritable, or of feeling a deep sense of sadness and desolation. It may also be that a couple start to argue or find that intimacy problems appear.
Some parents might start to think to themselves, “What have we done wrong?” or, “Why has this happened to us?” because it is a difficult reality to get used to. They can feel this even more so if there is no clear explanation for why it happened. A parent might have the need to find reasonable explanations for why it happened, and in doing this, they can start to feel responsible and blame themselves. This is especially so for the mothers, since the babies have lived within their bodies.
Partners can experience similar feelings around the loss of a baby, and these feelings should be acknowledged and supported. Such loss can also have an impact on siblings. Young children might start to feel that the world has become a less secure place. Some might even fear that a baby’s death is somehow their fault. Helping all the family to understand that nothing they did caused the event is essential to healing, along with reassuring young siblings that they are healthy, safe and loved.
- How can you help?
Grief may sometimes not be understood by others, especially if the loss happened early on in the pregnancy. If you are able to, it would be good idea to provide the parents with a safe space to talk and express their emotions, so you can support them, acknowledge their grief and their need for extra family care in the period following the loss. You can also help them to realise that the emotional responses that they are feeling are normal.
At these times it’s also important to keep in mind the importance of language, for example you may consider whether it’s best to use the infant’s name, or the word ‘baby’ instead. If you’re not sure, ask the parent what they feel more comfortable with. It’s also a good idea to focus on the present situation, instead of looking ahead. Phrases such as “You can still get pregnant”, “You do still have another child” or, “There will be a next time”, might not be helpful because the parent/s might feel that these kinds of phrases minimise the current loss.
You could suggest that the parents creating meaningful memories, particularly on special dates. Some may find it helps them to light a candle, write a poem or plant a tree.
- Considering your own feelings
Miscarriage is something that happens quite commonly. It’s affects approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies. Because of this, you may know people who have gone through it, or perhaps even have had some personal experience of it yourself. If that is the case you might find dealing with this particular situation difficult. If so, you might find it helpful to talk about your own feelings with a peer or line manager whom you trust first, before you try to focus on the experience, circumstances and feelings of the family at hand.
View and download our Supporting young children and families through bereavement booklet
Watch our free Supporting bereaved children in the early years webinar