Pregnancy loss: How to support a friend through their grief

Few can fully understand the extent of loss when a baby dies during pregnancy or birth, but we can support the grieving parents through their pain.

Pregnancy can be one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life; a time filled with expectation and hope.

When a pregnancy ends unexpectedly before it should though, the grief can be monumental.

What to know about miscarriage and stillbirth

With one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage and six babies a day being stillborn in Australia – more than 2000 a year – it’s likely you will know someone who has lost a baby.

Miscarriage is when a baby dies before 20 weeks gestation.

Stillbirth is when a baby dies before or during birth and can occur from 20 weeks until full term.

The rate of stillbirth has not changed in more than 20 years, with close to one in every 100 pregnancies ending in stillbirth.

A Stillbirth National Action Plan is being developed following a Senate inquiry last year.

There are many known causes and risk factors of miscarriage and stillbirth, but many parents never get answers.

But there are a few important things you can do to support a friend or loved one going through the distress of pregnancy loss.

Be present and willing to listen

Sands Australia chief executive Jackie Mead says friends and family can help by being available to the grieving parents.

“The most important thing to know is that parents need to have their loss acknowledged and their pain understood,” Jackie says.

“Allowing parents to speak honestly and openly about how they are feeling and about their experiences, both good and bad, is the best thing you can do.”

pregnancy loss

Help grieving parents make memories

One of the first things family and friends can do for someone who has lost a baby is contact Heartfelt.

Heartfelt is a group of volunteer photographers who will come at a moment’s notice to take photos – completely free – of babies who have died, or are gravely ill.

With such a small window to make memories, the service offers parents a lasting gift.

Say something

Saying something rather than nothing is best, according to Jackie.

“Family and friends often feel anxious or unsure about what they should do or say,” she says.

While it may feel as if nothing you could do or say could make a difference to their pain, Jackie says no one knows how to respond to such a devastating event.

“But we do know that when friends and family members avoid the situation for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, bereaved parents feel even more isolated in their grief.”

Instead she suggests offering patience, respect and simple, sincere thoughts with words such as: “I’m so sorry to hear your baby died” or “I know there’s nothing I can do to make this better, but I am here for you”.

Seek out extra support

If words fail you, seek out support groups you could encourage your loved ones to attend.

“(Sands Australia) is passionate about helping you feel comfortable reaching out to someone who has lost a baby,” says Jackie.

Download the Words Matter fact sheet, which has been produced specifically to help guide friends and family through these kinds of conversations.

Say it with food and a helping hand

Nothing says “I’m sorry for your loss” like a freshly prepared meal.

If cooking is not your thing, offer help in other ways.

You could offer to look after older children, organise a food hamper or help with odd jobs and cleaning around the house.

Written by Sally Heppleston