Pregnancy and Infant Loss: How to Cope or Offer Support
Pregnancy and infant loss are harsh realities faced by many expecting women. Pregnancy loss affects approximately 10 of 100 known pregnancies in the U.S. annually. As many as 10- to 15-percent of confirmed pregnancies are lost, with 1 out of 4 women, or 25% of the overall reproductive-aged U.S. female population, affected by pregnancy and infant loss. The true percentage of pregnancy losses might even be higher, as many such losses take place before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Most losses occur very early, oftentimes before the eighth week of pregnancy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), miscarriage refers to loss before the 20th week of pregnancy, while stillbirth refers to loss at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later.
Stillbirth is less common than miscarriage, affecting 1 in 160 pregnancies within the U.S. The CDC estimates approximately 24,000 babies are stillborn in the U.S. annually, or 70 stillbirths occurring daily. Cause of stillbirth is unknown in approximately 33% of yearly occurrences. The CDC further iterates Non-Hispanic Black women and American Indian/Alaska Native women are twice as likely to experience stillbirth in comparison to Non-Hispanic Whites, Asian or Pacific Islanders and Hispanics. Research supports lower quality of maternal health care and socioeconomic factors are closely tied to recognized disparities in maternal and infant deaths.
In addition to pregnancy loss through miscarriage or stillbirth, many U.S. women are affected by infant loss through Sudden Infant Death (SIDs), also known as “crib death,” termed as such because infants often die while in their cribs. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, SIDs is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than 1 year old. The CDC notes there are about 3,400 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) in the U.S. each year. In 2020, approximately 1,389 U.S. deaths were due to SIDS, according to the CDC.
No matter the cause, pregnancy and infant loss is a sad reality that profoundly affects women both physically and emotionally, in addition to their partners, children, extended families and friends.
October is designated as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and SIDS Awareness Month, with October 15 at 7 p.m. designated as the “International Wave of Light” candle-lighting to remember and honor all babies lost due to miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDs or unknown causes.
Your local Capital Women’s Care team of compassionate, empathetic women’s health professionals offers supportive tips to personally manage this specific grief, how to manage stress factors and relationships effectively with family and partners after incurring loss and a comprehensive list of support contacts of organizations for families grieving pregnancy or infant loss. Additionally, we include supportive tips specifically for family and friends of women and families grieving pregnancy and infant loss.
Managing Personal Grief
The death of a baby is one of the most painful things that can happen to a woman. While you may never completely recover from your baby’s death, you can move through your grief toward healing at your own determined pace that is comfortable for you.
To help get you through this difficult time, you may wish to try some of these ideas:
- Turn to loved ones and friends for support. Share your feelings and ask for help when you need it. Honesty with those close to you allows them to know exactly what they can do to show you and your family appropriate and accepted support.
- Be gentle and kind to yourself. Allow yourself to process and acknowledge your grief and ample time you need to get back into a daily routine. Take time necessary for you to process your loss, especially if you have a full- or parttime job outside the home.
- Do what feels right and take one day at a time. Rebuild your wellbeing and health and maintain and stabilize your relationships with your partner, children and extended family and close friends.
- Avoid self-blame and negative thoughts. Talk with your Capital Women’s Care practitioner for recommendations regarding mental health care if these thoughts or feelings of depression, anxiety, PTSD, doubts of self-worth or anger persist for more than 2 weeks.
- Talk to your partner about your loss. Keep in mind men and women cope with loss in different ways. Understand and acknowledge both your personal and your partner’s feelings and thoughts. Working together toward healing after pregnancy or infant loss increases your emotional intimacy, strengthening your relationship.
- Take care of yourself. Eating healthy foods, keeping active and getting enough sleep will help restore energy and well-being. This is especially important if you have other young children.
- Join a support group. A support group might help you to feel less alone. Investigate support groups for couples and children who have lost a younger sibling.
- Do something in remembrance of your baby. Designate a special remembrance of your baby and include extended family and close friends to honor and celebrate your baby’s memory.
- Seek help from a grief counselor, especially if your grief doesn’t ease with time.
Offering Your Partner Support
It’s important to offer partner support in the event of pregnancy or infant loss. While women need to voice their thoughts and feelings to their partners, women also need to listen and engage with their partner to work together through grief and loss. Doing so enriches and strengthens emotional intimacy, enhancing their partnership. Allowing your partner opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings helps you to better understand their grieving process, enabling you to better help each other through loss and healing.
Explaining Loss to Your Children
The loss of a baby affects the entire family, including siblings. Young children may not be able to comprehend death, but they can feel the sadness in those they love. Older children may have been anticipating this baby with the same love, hopes and dreams as the parents.
If you have other children and told them about your pregnancy, you need to explain the loss to them in simple terms they can understand. You might not need to go into detail with small children. You might prefer to explain the baby just wasn’t growing properly or it could no longer stay in Mom’s belly and simply leave it at that.
Acknowledge their loss. Allow them to express their emotions. Playing and drawing are two ways young children can express their feelings or concerns.
Offer to answer their questions. Answer them honestly but appropriately based on their developmental level.
If your children are too young to understand the concept of pregnancy, or if you didn’t tell your kids about the pregnancy, you might choose not to divulge about the loss.
Children tend to pick up on the emotions of the adults around them and their behavior might change in response. If your young children cling to you or are more upset than usual, try to be patient and understanding.
Your kids might be picking up on the fact that you feel sad without knowing why. In this case, you might need to provide an explanation. If your children are old enough to perceive and understand that you are sad, be sure to emphasize that it is not their fault (regardless of the explanation you choose). You will need to make it clear to them that you are sad because you miss the baby, not because of anything they did (or did not do.)
Reassure your children that you love them and answer any questions they might have about what happened in terms that are age-appropriate and understandable.
Be Compassionate and Supportive
If someone you care about has lost a child to stillbirth, miscarriage, SIDS, or any other cause at any point during pregnancy or infancy, you can demonstrate compassionate support and empathy through these suggested tips:
- Keep condolences simple. When talking to a friend after losing a baby, no explanations or rationalizations are necessary.
- Acknowledge their loss. Recognizing their loss makes them realize you care. Flowers, a gift of remembrance, cards and flowers are good examples to show concern and care.
- Be patient. Everyone grieves in different ways and for different lengths of time. Be there for them throughout their grieving process without pushing.
- Listen and let them grieve. Many women need to talk about their experience. Ask them how they are doing. Some women find it cathartic to talk about how they are feeling, while others may not be ready but will appreciate you asking.
- Understand they may not view others’ pregnancies or births with enthusiasm. Don’t judge their response, especially in situations that are painful reminders of their own personal pregnancy or infant loss.
- Offer practical support. Drop off a meal, do tasks around the house or help with childcare, especially if their household includes younger children.
- Be present and let those grieving lead the way.
- Don’t ask hurtful questions or make hurtful comments. Avoid questions about future pregnancy plans or starting comments with “At least‚Ä¶,” which minimizes or even eliminates the importance and justification of their grief.
- Continue to check in. Maintain continuing support through regular check ins. Grief can persist for years afterwards, even though it decreases in its intensity. Allow them to talk while being a good listener.
- Don’t sweep their experience under the carpet. Allow them to share their feelings and experience with you to encourage their healing and show your support. Women want pregnancy and infant loss talked about more, so they don’t feel so alone.
Every person is different, so there’s no way to predict how a woman and her partner will react to losing their baby. It’s important to follow the parents’ cues and ask about their preferences if you’re unsure. You’ll discover that many parents want to talk about their loss to keep their baby’s memory alive.
Your local Capital Women’s Care team of health professionals is here to address your concerns and answer your questions relating to pregnancy and infant loss or any women’s health issue. Our compassionate, empathetic professionals prioritize unparalleled, comprehensive women’s health treatments, care and services, so you may enjoy a long quality life.
- Compassionate Friends ‚Äì provides highly personal comfort, hope, and support to every family experiencing the death of a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or a grandchild, and helps others better assist the grieving family. (Resources in Spanish and other languages available.)
- Glow in the Woods (for baby lost mothers and fathers) ‚Äì discussion forum and helpful posts for parents who have lost a baby.
- Griefwatch (for perinatal loss) ‚Äì a publisher and manufacturer of bereavement books and materials used by families and professionals around the country.
- Georgetown University ‚Äì Emotional Healing after a Miscarriage: A Guide for Women, Partners, Family and Friends
- March of Dimes ‚Äì overview of dealing with grief after the death of one’s baby.
- M.E.N.D. ‚Äì (Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death)- Christian, non-profit organization that reaches out to families who have suffered the death of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death.
- Miscarriage for Men ‚Äì website that offers directional guidance and support. A place where men, who are suffering in silence, can voice their worries, fears and just support each other, either publicly or anonymously.
- Miscarriage Matters — community of parents who have experienced the loss of our child/children, willing to offer our friendship and a listening ear.
- MISS Foundation — provides support for families struggling with traumatic grief. Family Support Packets are available with information and resources for bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings.
- Rachel’s Gift ‚Äì provides support and guidance for caregivers and families enduring pregnancy and infant loss.
- Return to Zero ‚Äì provides compassionate and holistic support for people who have experienced unimaginable loss during their journey to parenthood. (Resources available in Spanish and other languages.)
- Return to Zero: LGBTQIA+ ‚Äì Support for LGBTQIA+ families
- RESOLVE through Sharing ‚Äì for providers; a not-for-profit organization providing thought leadership, and an evidence-based yet compassion-first approach to bereavement care.
- SHARE Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support ‚Äì mission to provide support toward positive resolution of grief experienced at the time of or following the death of a baby. This support encompasses emotional, physical, spiritual and social healing, as well as sustaining the family unit.
- Sisters in Loss ‚Äì dedicated to replacing silence with storytelling around pregnancy and infant loss and infertility of black women.
- Star Legacy Foundation ‚Äì virtual grief support groups for family members who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss (Group in Spanish is available.)
- Tears Foundation ‚Äì offers parents comprehensive bereavement care in the form of grief support groups and peer companions.