Neonatal death

Neonatal death is when a baby dies within the first 28 days of being born.

The most common causes of neonatal death are:

  • preterm birth – a baby born before week 37 of pregnancy
  • low birth weight – babies that are born too small may have more health problems
  • congenital abnormality ('birth defects') – health conditions that your baby has at the time of birth
  • asphyxia or other complications during pregnancy or birth
  • infections

Recovering after your baby's death

Grief is an individual process. You and your partner may mourn in different ways. Try to allow each other time to process your loss.

You may:

  • feel intense shock – even if you knew that your baby was going to die
  • experience a range of emotions – sadness, numbness, anger, shock, panic and guilt
  • find it hard to eat and hard to go to sleep at night
  • feel irritable and may snap at loved ones
  • think you can hear your baby crying

These are all normal parts of the grieving process.

Talking to your healthcare team can help you process the emotions you are feeling.

If you have other children, it is important to talk to them about their brother or sister who has died. Every child reacts differently. Sometimes feelings of grief are expressed through tantrums and other difficult behaviours.

Remembering your baby

If you wish to spend time alone with your baby, you will be given the space to do this.

Some parents may want to keep mementos such as:

  • imprints of your baby’s handprints and footprints
  • a lock of hair
  • the baby’s hospital ID band
  • photographs

Not all parents feel the same. Don’t feel pressured if you feel this is not right for you.

If you are unsure or think there is a chance that you might want momentos in the future, it is best to collect them now. You can then put them away safely until you are ready to look at them.

If you do not wish to organise the funeral ceremony, many hospitals have a remembrance service for babies who die in pregnancy or soon after birth.

Registering your baby's birth and entitlements

You will need to register your baby's birth if they were born after 24 weeks. You will usually be entitled to full maternity leave.

If your baby was born before 24 weeks and did not show signs of life, they will not be placed on the birth register. In this case, you will not be entitled to maternity leave benefits.

But if your baby was born before 24 weeks and weighed more than 500 grams, they will be considered stillborn. This means they can be placed on the birth register and you'll be entitled to maternity leave.

Post-mortems

Post-mortems can explain the cause of your baby’s death. This may be helpful if you choose to have children in the future.

A post-mortem examination may be ordered if your baby’s death:

  • has an unknown cause
  • was caused by an accident, or was very sudden or violent
  • happened within 24 hours of being admitted to hospital
  • happened during an operation or anaesthetic

Results can take at least 8 weeks. Your obstetrician and paediatrician will arrange an appointment to discuss the results with you.

Where to get support

Each maternity unit has a bereavement Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) who can provide you with advice and support.

Other resources for parents include:

Go to a full list of bereavement support groups

Slaintecare logo
This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.

Page last reviewed: 9 November 2021
Next review due: 9 November 2024

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