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.
Sometimes a baby or infant’s death is sudden and unexpected. The term SUDI may be used, which stands for the Sudden Unexpected Death of an Infant. This includes both fatal sleeping accidents when a cause is identified and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), which occurs in an infant under one year of age often unexplained even after an autopsy. Rates of SIDS have dropped significantly in Australia over the past few decades due to research and public health campaigns.
Families are understandably devastated by a sudden death. Parents may find themselves analysing and replaying every moment in the last few hours or days of their baby’s life searching for clues. When a child dies, it usually affects not only parents but the child’s siblings, grandparents, extended family members, friends and colleagues. All people affected by the death are encouraged to seek professional support if they need it.
Struggles after experiencing loss
Unexplained deaths can cause particular struggles for parents, including:
- Permanently unanswered questions and guilt – they might wonder whether they could have done something to prevent their baby’s death or feel guilty that they didn’t sense something was wrong.
- Initial state of shock.
- Distress caused by police attendance, coronial involvement and autopsy processes.
- Post-traumatic symptoms caused by discovering their baby’s body.
- Wondering what to tell their friends/family/work colleagues.
- Questions around parental leave.
- Coping with others’ grief responses as well as their own.
- Feeling disconnected from the world around them.
- Intense feeling of loss, disbelief, numbness, depression.
- isolation or loneliness.
Date of Last Review: April 2021