What to Say to a Parent when their Baby Dies
Losing a child at any gestational age can be devastating not only for the baby’s parents, but for the family and friends who also awaited the baby’s arrival.
For more than 45 years, South Shore Hospital has offered a pregnancy loss support program. For the last 20 years, Patty Rodgers, RN, Laura Carroll, RN and Claire Hagan, RN, LMHC, have assisted thousands of families as they navigate the loss of a child.
With one in five pregnancies ending in loss, many without any explanation, most of us know someone who has lost a child, or will someday help a loved one coping with this loss.
Here are some things parents tell our team they find helpful—or hurtful—when friends and family talk to them about their loss.
Do NOT Say
- “You’re still young. You can have others.” One baby does not replace another. Parents have to mourn before trying again. The parents may also have struggled to conceive the baby they just lost.
- “You have an angel in heaven.” Parents don’t want an angel in heaven—they want their baby.
- “This happened for the best. There was something wrong with it.” While well-intentioned, reasons like this can make the pain worse. Also, avoid referring to the baby as “it” or “the fetus.” If the parents named the baby, use the baby’s name.
- “Don’t dwell on this. Just put it behind you.” Losing a child can cause years of acute sadness.
- “If you need anything, call me.” Grieving parents seldom have the energy to reach out. Set a specific time that you’ll reach out again, and be sure to follow up at that time.
- “I’m sorry.” Acknowledging a parent’s pain can go a long way and open up a conversation.
- “This must be hard for you.” This statement recognizes the parent’s pain and gives them an opportunity to share their feelings.
- “I don’t know what to say.” It’s OK if you don’t know exactly what to say. Most times, parents just want someone to listen.
- “I’m here. I want to listen.” Many parents that have lost a child want to talk about the same thing parents with living babies do—their pregnancy, labor and delivery. Let them tell their stories.
- “What can I do for you right now?” Offering something as simple as picking up lunch or watching the parent’s other children shows that you care and eases the burden on the parent.
Grief affects every parent differently. But your encouragement and support can give parents strength during a very difficult time.