Whether you’re a paramedic, police officer, GP, health visitor, midwife or social worker, involvement with a sudden infant death can be difficult, and can cause you to question your professional capacity and extent to which you should get involved with the bereaved family.

Many professionals experience the same anxieties. As SIDS figures have declined, professional involvement in these cases is infrequent. Common concerns include “I’m not a counsellor”; “there’s a supportive family”; “I don’t know anything about SIDS”; “I’m not trained to deal with bereavement.”

Information about grief

Don’t make assumptions about how badly parents may be affected by the loss, there is no hierarchy of grief where one is worse than the other.

Profound grief can be felt regardless of the length a baby’s life.

Attachment to the idea of a baby can begin before pregnancy with many hopes and dreams for the future and can become more pronounced over the course of pregnancy and a child’s early life.

When a baby dies, all members of a family are affected, but no two family members grieve in the same way. Some people are not comfortable openly expressing their feelings and cope with their grief in a more practical way for example throwing themselves into fundraising challenges. Just because someone isn’t openly speaking about their feelings doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling grief.

Bereaved parents need to have and it is normal to have a continued bond or relationship with the baby who has died.

The terms ‘get over’, ‘move on’ or ‘recover’ are not appropriate because the grief related to baby loss, as with any loss, can continue for life. It is important for most parents to hold their child in mind whilst they adapt to the loss and go on with their life.

Our advice on supporting a bereaved family

There are no set guidelines as to how much you should be involved or what you should say to a bereaved family, but there are a few things that you can do that will make a world of difference to someone coping with the loss of a child.

Most importantly, make contact, don’t avoid it. When hearing of a bereavement many people including friends and relatives stay away, so even a two minute call will be appreciated. While extra training in bereavement can help you feel more confident in supporting families, you don’t need a special qualification to follow these tips:

Do:

  • Keep it brief.
  • Offer your condolences.
  • Use the baby’s name.
  • If possible offer something specific as families may not know what they need. For example: ‘would you like me to put you in touch with The Lullaby Trust who can support you?’
  • If appropriate let them know your availability for future contact.
  • Check they have information about The Lullaby Trust, especially the bereavement support number.
  • Leave your own contact number or check they have their assigned Key Worker’s phone number.

Don’t:

  • Use any clichéd expressions of condolences such as ‘time’s a great healer’ etc.
  • Don’t use medical jargon when speaking with parents.
  • Don’t say you know how they feel.
  • Ask them to repeat the story unless they are eager to do so.
  • Become defensive of your own or any colleague’s practice.
  • Speculate about anything you’re not completely sure about.
  • Compare it to another case.

If you would like further help and advice, please call The Lullaby Trust bereavement support line on 0808 802 6868 or our information line on 0808 802 6869. Both are open to professionals as well as parents so do call if you need advice on helping a family.

Find out more about our bereavement support services and advice on bereavement support during the coronavirus pandemic.

If you are interested in organising training for professionals and practitioners covering bereavement communication and support for anyone affected by a baby death, please email training@lullabytrust.org.uk for more information.