What to Do For Someone Who Has Experienced Pregnancy or Infant Loss

grieving mother infant loss miscarriage stillbirth support Oct 13, 2022
What to do for a griever

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Knowing someone close to you is suffering after a pregnancy or infant loss is hard.  Here are some ideas of what you can do to help them.


Establishing a few goals will help create a guide.

  1. Alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness.  It is normal to feel overwhelmed or lost in grief after losing a baby.  Being unsure of how to navigate this grief, feeling depressed, or feeling apathetic may withdrawal from social interactions.
  2. Support the griever with day-to-day responsibilities.  Grieving is exhausting.  Simply getting out of bed and showering can feel like a chore.  Cooking, cleaning, tending to other living children, and working can feel overwhelming.
  3. Offer comfort.  Physical pain, sadness, anger, or other uncomfortable sensations or emotion are normal.  Physically, a grieving mother may be sore after a traumatic delivery, recovering from a surgery (i.e. c-section, D&C, etc), weak from blood loss, experiencing hormonal fluctuations, or dealing with the physical and mental pain of lactation.

If you are a physician partner, a manager, or colleague of a grieving healthcare provider, please offer them time off after losing their baby.  For example, if your co-worker experienced a stillbirth, taking a full maternity leave should be expected and encouraged.  In fact, the grieving mother may need a full 12-weeks of FMLA.

It takes time to recover physically.  In addition to tears and incisions healing, the pelvic floor needs time to heal before pushing stretchers, lifting patients, or running to codes.

Lactation is a secondary insult.  Engorged breasts are painful.  It takes time for the milk to dry up.  In addition, it is emotionally devastating to see and feel your milk come in when your arms and cradle are empty.

Hormone shifts are real and happen regardless of whether a baby is at home.

Sleep loss associated with a newborn is replaced with insomnia from grief.

Finding grief counseling, support groups, or a grief coach takes time.  Working through the grief does not resolve in one session.  It can take weeks to months before a provider may feel ready to re-enter the workplace surrounded by grief triggers like walking past the hospital room where they lost their baby.

If you are a leader in your department (charge person, manager, department chair, residency coordinator, etc), try to make assignments to limit exposers to triggers (pregnant patients and pediatrics).  Yes, staffing is tight nationally, your department may be small, or the there may be few that can do the grieving providers job.  This is an opportunity to be empathetic and creative.  Here are some examples.

  • Emergency room:. Try to avoid OB and pediatric assignments.
  • NICU, OB, or pediatric nurses: Offer a transfer to an adult floor, unit, department, or office based practice.
  • Anesthesiologist, CRNA, AA: Keep the provider in general, adult cases.  OB and pediatric patients can be difficult if not impossible to care for in the early stages through the first year of grieving.  Look to the griever to indicate if or when they are ready to resume care of these patients.
  • Family practice providers:. Eliminate OB call and shift OB clinic patients to other providers in the group.  If this is not possible, routinely check in with the griever to find ways to support them with these patient assignments.  Let them know you are available by phone or text if they have a challenging case or situation that triggers their grief.

Please know that after losing a baby, some providers may choose to never care for another OB patient or baby again in their career.  Each grieving journey is unique.  Open, non-judgmental communication is needed to figure out what is best for each individual provider.

Isolation and Loneliness

Every time you reach out it counts and matters.  It can be as simple as a text that says,

  • "I am thinking about you."
  • "I am checking in to see how you are feeling right now."

Depending on the person, something light hearted like a silly picture of your cat or dog can break up the day.  Maybe you found a beautiful graphic or a meme that feels appropriate.

If you have some free time, send a text that says, "May I call you?"  Simply listening is helpful.

Cards are meaningful.  They can be displayed around the house as a kind reminder of the concern and care you have for your friend or colleague.  

Some grieving mothers save cards and pull them out when they are having a bad day, on the baby's birthday, or during other difficult times.

Not only is a card thoughtful at the time of the loss but sending cards at other times is usually appreciated.  Some additional times to consider sending a card would be:

  • each year on the baby's birthday
  • baby's due date
  • each month during the first year after loss
  • holidays
  • on National Bereaved Mother's Day (Sunday before Mother's Day)

You could extend an invitation to:

  • join you for dinner
  • a low-key movie night in your home
  • go for a walk
  • meet at a coffee shop

Supporting Day-to-Day Responsibilities

The everyday responsibilities can feel burdensome while grieving.  Instead of saying, is there anything I can do for you, try some of these ideas:

  • Help care for other living children by saying something like, "We are headed to the park for a couple of hours and were wondering if we could pick your children up this afternoon around 2pm."
    •   Other ideas include a bike ride, movies, bowling, miniature golf, baking cookies at your house, or having a sleep over.
  • "I am headed to the store to run some errands.  If you snap a photo of your grocery list, I will drop everything off in a few hours."
  • Offer to drive the grieving mom to a follow-up doctor appointment if their spouse or partner is working.
  • If you notice the grass is getting long, ask if you can use their mower or pay for a lawn service to stop by. 
  • On a snowy morning, shovel their driveway and walkway.
  • Clean their house or get permission to hire your cleaning person to stop by.
  • Food: drop off food or coordinate meals to be delivered 2-3 times a week during maternity leave and the first month or two of work
    • Find out about food sensitivities or allergies (i.e. peanuts, nuts, milk, eggs, gluten, etc)
    • Ask if they have meal preferences
    • Organize people digitally with a website like Meal Train, for consistent days and times for drop off
    • Tell the grieving family they can put a cooler on the front steps if they do not want to see or talk to anyone
    • You could say, "I was going to make your family dinner.  Is it best to drop it off on Tuesday or Wednesday around 5:30?"
    • Or you could text around noonish,  "I just ordered soup and baguette to be delivered to your home.  It is on the way."

Comforting Things You Can Buy

Here is a list of things to consider buying or sending.

Hopefully this serves as a helpful guide to get you started.  If you have read this far, thank you for caring and supporting a grieving family.

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