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Dealing with a neonatal death

6-minute read

After the joy and anticipation of a birth, a neonatal (newborn) death can bring shock and heartbreak. Dealing with the death of a newborn baby can be one of the hardest things you will ever do. But with support from those around you, you will get through this.

After the death

A neonatal death is when a baby dies within the first 28 days after birth. Parents who experience a neonatal death often feel shocked and devastated. They may feel alone, or find it hard to believe their baby has died. But everyone reacts differently, and you may experience many different emotions at different times.

You will probably have a lot to think about, like making funeral arrangements and registering the baby’s birth and death. The hospital social worker or a maternal child health nurse can support you and guide you through the process.

Some parents may be eligible for government support after a neonatal death. Government payments include Family Tax Benefit bereavement payment for up to 14 weeks, Dad and Partner Pay for up to 2 weeks, Parental Leave Pay for up to 18 weeks, the high maximum rate of Newborn Upfront Payment and Newborn Supplement for 13 weeks paid with FTB Part A or as a lump sum, and the Parenting Payment for up to 14 weeks. Visit the Services Australia for more information.

Coming to terms with what has happened

Parents often find it helpful to know why their baby died. Some may request an autopsy, which is an examination to work out the causes of the neonatal death. Sometimes, however, the cause is never known.

Talking to the health professionals who looked after you and your baby can help. If you’re not satisfied with their answers, you have the right to ask to speak to someone else. Even if you never know why your baby died, talking about it and getting all the facts is an important step towards acknowledging what has happened.

Many parents wish to spend some time with their baby. You can ask to take the baby home with you, or visit them in the funeral home. This time is precious, so take as long as you like. Then, when you are ready, you can say goodbye.

Creating memories

Years ago, medical staff used to remove a baby as soon as they had died. But these days we know it helps with healing if parents can take the time to create memories of their baby to treasure later.

If your baby didn’t already have a name, you can choose a name for them now. It will help you acknowledge they were a real person when you are remembering them and talking about them with other people in the future.

Other ways you can remember your baby include taking lots of photos, holding and cuddling them, taking a lock of their hair, making handprints or footprints, keeping the cards or drying flowers you receive, or writing a journal.

You can also make a memorial for your baby - for example by finding a special place in the garden, planting a tree or choosing a song to remember them by. Do whatever feels right for you.

Looking after yourself

Mothers may produce milk for several weeks after a neonatal death. Expressing a little milk will make you more comfortable, but don’t express too much since your breasts will produce more. A midwife, neonatal nurse or lactation consultant can help you. See your doctor if your breasts become painful, swollen and warm, or if you develop a fever.

Some mothers choose to donate expressed milk to a milk bank to help other premature or sick babies.

Your body will also go through some of the same changes that women experience after birth. Learn more here about what can happen to your body after a neonatal death.

Emotional support

It may feel like no-one else could understand your grief, but involving others in the grieving process is important. Many bereaved parents find it helpful to invite family members to see the baby. If you have other children, it’s important to involve them too.

Your family and friends will want to support you, but they may not know what to do or understand how deeply you are grieving. It can take a long time to deal with a neonatal death, so even if you can’t face seeing people straight away, you can accept their love and support later.

Meeting with other parents who have experienced neonatal death can help. You can find support in person at a local support group or online in the form of blogs or Facebook groups.

Both mothers and fathers can be overwhelmed with grief when dealing with a neonatal death. Your relationship may be strained as you both deal with feelings in different ways. It’s important to communicate openly and honestly and support each other to get through.

Where to find help

Your doctor, midwife, maternal child health nurse or social worker will be able to guide you through what happens after the baby has died.

Sands Australia provides information and support for anyone who has experienced stillbirth or neonatal death. You can speak to someone 24 hours a day on their helpline, 1300 072 637.

Red Nose Grief and Loss has information and resources. has information and resources. You can call their helpline 24 hours a day on 1300 308 307 or live chat to a peer supporter.

Lifeline supports anyone who is experiencing a personal crisis — call 13 11 14 or chat online.

Griefline provides telephone support — call 1300 845 745, Mon to Fri, 8am to 8pm (AEST).

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2021

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Need more information?

Grief after stillbirth or neonatal death | Raising Children Network

When a baby dies because of stillbirth or neonatal death, there’s no right way for you to grieve. People deal with grief in their own ways.

Read more on website

Stillbirth and neonatal death | Raising Children Network

Information about pregnancy loss, stillbirth and neonatal death, including grief and getting support.

Read more on website

What is a neonatal death?

A neonatal death is when a baby dies in the first 4 weeks after they are born. Learn what can cause neonatal death and what happens if a baby dies.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Your body after stillbirth or neonatal death

After a stillbirth or neonatal death, your body may still experience the same changes it would after an uncomplicated birth. Find out what to expect and where to go for support.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Baby & Infant Death

A neonatal death is when a baby is born alive but dies within the first 28 days of life. Nearly 800 neonatal deaths occur in Australia each year. Some of those babies die immediately or soon after birth, while others may spend some days or weeks in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Read more on Gidget Foundation Australia website


Support after the death of a baby through stillbirth or newborn death

Read more on Sands Australia website

Death of a baby - Better Health Channel

Miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death is a shattering event for those expecting a baby, and for their families. Grief, relationship stresses and anxiety about subsequent pregnancies are common in these circumstances.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

When Your Baby is Stillborn or Dies Soon After Birth | Guiding Light - Red Nose Grief and Loss

Read more on Red Nose website

Breast care for breastfeeding mothers after the death of a child | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Time after the death of your infant can be physically and emotionally exhausting

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

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