Saying goodbye to the baby: Funerals and services

Decisions about whether to have a funeral

Parents were often offered a funeral for their baby, which for many came as a surprise. They were often unaware that it was a possibility and unsure whether it was the right thing for them. Many found it hard to make a decision quickly after their baby’s birth. They were often in shock and the early stages of grief, and felt they needed more time.

While it was a distressing and very sad event, most parents did decide to attend a funeral for their baby. It was an opportunity to acknowledge their baby’s life. Emily and Mike felt their baby’s funeral offered them closure. Some parents said they were concerned what other people thought about them having a funeral for their baby. Courtney was worried people would think it wasn’t appropriate to have a funeral when her baby was ‘not counted as a stillbirth.’ Other parents found it too distressing and did not want to attend. Kareena and Raj felt they had ‘sort of had our moment so we didn’t want to spoil it’.

Lindsay talked about how it never occurred to her that she could have a funeral for her baby but that planning it became very important to her.

Age at interview 35

Gender Female

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Matthew didn’st want to attend the cremation of his daughter as he thought it would be too painful.

Arranging a funeral

Arranging a funeral was not something expectant parents had thought about. Some parents were offered an individual service for their baby at the hospital while others were offered a group funeral where a service was given for several babies who had died. Some parents wanted a more personal approach and chose to organise their own ceremony through a funeral director.

Liz had decided not to have a funeral but changed her mind and was really pleased she had an opportunity to say goodbye.

Age at interview 40

Gender Female

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Alison found a terrible camaraderie being with other parents who had also experienced a loss.

Age at interview 30

Gender Female

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Many parents felt they didn’t know where to start and ‘didn’t have the head space’ to organise a funeral so soon after their loss. They appreciated the help of hospital or funeral directors arranging everything so all they needed to do was to turn up. Others found planning the funeral gave them a helpful focus. Parents often made the service more personal by writing poems or letters to their child or choosing special music and songs. Some described placing special mementoes with the baby – blankets and soft toys they had kept with the baby.

For some parents attending their baby’s funeral was a very private matter with only them present. Other parents wanted their older children to be present, and sometimes close family and friends were invited.

Kelly appreciated the help she received to organise her daughter’s funeral.

Age at interview 39

Gender Female

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Vikki described her daughter’s funeral. She appreciated candles being lit at the service for her older daughters who couldn’st be there.

Age at interview 33

Gender Female

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Helen Z and her husband appreciated the help of the hospital in organising their baby’s funeral and creating some special memories.

Age at interview 37

Gender Female

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Collecting the ashes

Some parents chose a burial for their baby while others had a cremation. Collecting their baby’s ashes after the cremation was often very distressing for parents. Helen Z found herself physically unable to speak when she went to the crematorium to collect her son’s ashes.

Many people talked about how they found comfort in visiting the baby’s grave or the special place where they had put the baby’s ashes. Some parents chose a permanent memorial such as a cemetery, a Sands memorial garden, a woodland burial or their own garden as it offered a place to visit and reflect. Others kept their baby’s ashes in a special place in the home as they wanted them to be close by and they could move house with them. Carly felt ‘in hindsight, I would have had her buried, rather than cremated. Like I feel like I would have liked somewhere to visit, like a grave.’

Asun found it very upsetting collecting her baby’s ashes. She and her husband David have decided to make a special place for them in their new home.

Maxine and Steve had their baby cremated so that they could keep her ashes close to them.


Many of the parents we talked to described waiting for several weeks or even months for the funeral to take place waiting for investigations to understand the cause of the death or because the number of slots kept free by the local crematorium for hospital funerals were sometimes very limited. David and Asun found this time offered an opportunity to reflect on the kind of funeral they wanted. For Vikki the long waiting time delayed her grief.

After the death of a baby, the baby’s body may need to be moved to different locations for investigations before burial or cremation. Parents often talked about how important it was to know where their baby was. Parents appreciated it when they were kept up to date about where their baby was. Both Asun and Camille found it upsetting not knowing where their baby was and thinking they were all alone. Vikki found it distressing when she couldn’t find out from the hospital where her baby was and had to ask the funeral director to find her baby.

Sarah really appreciated how the midwives at her local hospital would ring her and keep her up to date every time her baby was moved.

Age at interview 34

Gender Female

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Deciding whether to have a post mortem

When a baby dies, there are several options available to try to understand the cause. Most mothers we spoke to had investigations of their placenta...