How to Support Parents After a Stillbirth: 7 Ways

Updated

Pregnancy is usually an exciting time in people’s lives, but unfortunately in some cases, it ends in heartbreak, as in the case of stillbirth. A stillbirth is when the baby passes away before birth. 

The exact definition of stillbirth varies depending on the country you’re in. In the United States, stillbirth is a loss that occurs after 20 weeks of gestation. Stillbirth may seem like a distant possibility, but it can really shake things up when it hits close to home.  

Jump ahead to these sections:

A stillbirth occurs in about one out of 167 pregnancies, so there’s a fair chance that it will happen to someone that you know. Life is full of unexpected curveballs. It’s that much easier to navigate them when you have a solid support system. If you’re part of that support system for someone, it’s important to know just how to help out during this fragile time. 

Wondering how to support parents of a stillborn baby? We’re here to lend a (metaphorical) hand.

Ways You Can Help Parents Directly After a Stillbirth

If you have a friend or family member who just experienced a stillbirth, they need all the support they can get. Right now they are healing physically, emotionally, and mentally. They may be in shock, despair, grief, and a whole other slew of emotions. 

You want to do all that you can for the parents, but you might not know where to start. Here are some ways you can help parents right after a stillbirth happens. 

1. Find the right words

Words are powerful, and it can be difficult to know what to say after a pregnancy loss. It’s tricky territory. You don’t want to say the wrong thing, but you also don’t want to leave them hanging. If you’re a nervous talker, you might overcompensate and say too much, but sometimes less is more. 

Wondering what to say to parents who just experienced a stillbirth? Keep these tips in mind:

  • Honesty is powerful: People often avoid honesty and skirt around the topic at hand. The parents are experiencing the very real reality of pregnancy loss; thus, honesty and candidness can be healing and refreshing. It also helps keep them from feeling like they’re being coddled or that people have to walk on eggshells around them.
  • Be helpful: If you’re not sure what to say, have it be an actionable question like “When can I bring you food?” or “I’m running to the grocery store, what can I grab for you?”
  • Let it come from the heart: Heartfelt words are the most impactful and will help them feel loved and supported. This could sound like “You and your baby are in my heart” or “I love you, and I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”
  • Make them laugh: Laughter is powerful medicine. If you can bring a smile to their faces, you may just make their day a little easier. 

Say it to their face, in text messages, voice messages, or in a card. There are so many ways to let someone know you’re thinking about them. 

2. Help them find resources

Loved ones are a vital part of the parents’ support system, but sometimes it’s not enough. One of the ways you can support parents of a stillborn baby is by helping them find outside resources so that they can get the professional help they need.

What sort of resources might you look for? You can help seek out therapists and counselors who have experience in reproductive loss, stillbirth support groups for them to join, and other sorts of healers and providers who can help them manage the trauma and stress they’re probably experiencing.

How do you help the parents find resources? You can do some of the leg work by asking around for recommendations, doing research, and compiling a list of what’s out there. 

3. Make their lives easier

Grief tends to make everything seem heavier and harder. Daily tasks and chores like work, cooking, taking care of dogs and kids, and keeping the house clean can all seem impossible when your heart is breaking.

One of the best ways you can support parents who experienced a stillbirth is by making their life easier. They might be reluctant to accept help, but take the initiative to take care of things without them having to ask. 

Instead of asking them how you can help, tell them how you’d like to help. You can reference what we said in the “find the right words” section. Notice how we said, “When can I bring you food?” instead of “Would you like me to bring you food?” No one likes to feel like a burden, and even though you want to help, they might be reluctant to tell you just what they need.

What are some other ways that you can make their life easier?

  • Do their dishes and tidy their home when you’re over.
  • Deliver groceries or meals to their home.
  • Create a meal train for other friends and family to sign up for.
  • Walk their dog.
  • Water their plants or garden.
  • Drive them to appointments.

You want to be respectful of their boundaries, of course, but do as much as you can to make their lives easier so that they can focus on healing. This can change depending on how close you are with them, but there are always ways you can lend a helping hand.

4. Include them

After someone experiences a big loss, a lot of times their friends and family stop inviting them to parties and gatherings because they think they might not be in a place emotionally to attend. That’s up to the parents to decide whether or not they feel comfortable going out and about. 

Some people may want to isolate themselves while others may benefit from the distraction and the community time. Most people will go back and forth between the two. Even if they don’t say yes to going out, it can make them feel a whole lot better knowing that their people are thinking about them, and want to have them around. 

So invite them to dinner, lunch, small gatherings, parties, fun activities, whatever it is you’re planning. It’s up to them to decide whether or not to come. They might say no for a while at first, but don’t forget about them. 

5. Give them a memorial gift

It may seem like a weird time to be giving gifts, but it can help the parents feel acknowledged and appreciated. Stillborn memorial gifts are also another way to let the family know that they’re not the only ones thinking about their baby. 

It doesn’t have to be anything big or complicated, even the smallest gifts let them know you’re thinking of them. Looking for some gift ideas?

  • Donate in the baby’s or parents’ name. 
  • Make a self-care basket.
  • Make a memorial necklace, bench, or plaque. 

Just like with your kind words, let the gift come from the heart. It can be homemade, or a meaningful plant; there are so many different kinds of memorial gifts out there.

Ways You Can Help Parents Directly in the Months and Years After a Stillbirth

One of the things about big losses like a stillbirth is that it sticks with you forever. What makes it even harder is that the big rush of support after the initial loss often fades quickly, leaving people to pick up the pieces by themselves. Time may make things easier, but the parents of a stillborn still need support in the months and years after the loss.

Their needs may change, but they still need their people there to lend a hand, kind words, and shoulder to cry on. Here are some ways you can support parents of a stillborn, long after they experience the initial loss. 

6. Help plan a memorial service

After the parents have had some time to heal and grieve, they may want to honor the baby’s short life with a memorial service. If you’re pretty close to the parents, a great way to support them after some time has passed is to offer to help plan one.

What does a memorial service for a stillborn baby look like? It can be big or small, with just family or with friends, at a venue or in someone’s living room or backyard – whatever feels most comfortable for the family. 

With the parent’s blessing, you can help them plan by taking steps like:

  • Calling and booking a venue, or someone’s home to host (or host it yourself)
  • Coordinating catering or getting the food together yourself
  • Creating an altar to honor the baby and asking people to bring things to add to it
  • Sending out invitations (make sure the parents check the guest list)
  • Starting a memorial fund for people to donate to in the baby and parent’s honor

Again, be sure you have the blessing of the parents before doing this, as not everyone will want a memorial. It’s awesome to take initiative, but make sure it will be an occasion that feels comfortable and supportive for them, not stressful. 

7. Keep the memory alive

People are often scared to bring up people who have died to their immediate family. This goes back to being honest – while some people may want to forget about it, most feel better talking about the loved ones they’ve lost.

You can help keep the memory of their baby alive by checking in with them, talking about their baby, using the baby’s name, and letting them know that they’re not the only ones carrying around this grief. This is something the parents will carry for the rest of their lives, and it will most likely warm their hearts to know that other people remember too. 

Every Bit Counts: Supporting Parents After a Stillbirth

Stillbirth is one of the most difficult things that someone can go through. It makes a world of a difference in their healing process to have people around them providing love and support. You never know how much of a difference it can make to have someone drop off a meal or give a big hug and offer a few kind words. 

So take these tips, make them your own, share them with other people who are in the parents’ lives, and keep doing what you can to make their lives a little easier in this difficult time. Even the smallest acts of kindness can make a world of difference. 


Sources:
  1. “How Common is Stillbirth?” National Institute of Health. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 1 December 2016, nichd.nih.gov.

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