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Baby and Infant Death

A neonatal death is defined as the death of a live born baby within 28 days of birth. 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), when no cause can be found. Rates of SIDS have dropped significantly in Australia over the past few decades due to research and public health campaigns but it still happens, albeit far less frequently.

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.

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
  • 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
  • Is parental leave available
  • Coping with others’ grief responses as well as their own.
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