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Returning home...

Eventually, there will come a time when you are discharged and have to return home. For some, this is exactly where they want to be but for others, it can feel triggering as there are reminders of our pregnancy/baby everywhere. Below are some considerations as you are discharged and returning home after loss:


Ask for help/find a support person

While all of this feels lonely, you don’t have to do it alone. Ask a trusted friend to be your “support person” as you make this transition. All they need to do is listen. This person’s support can look like:


  • Prepping the home – This will ensure potential triggers are moved out of sight for the time being upon your arrival home (do not throw anything away or return any gifts!).

  • Letting people know – They can help remove the burden of notifying mutual friends about what has happened, and let them know you need some time and space before reaching out. They can also encourage them to send you texts or messages of love and support.

  • Phone calls - They can help make phone calls to situate insurance billing, finding counselors or therapists, making appointments, arranging meals or finding disposition providers.

  • Manage quiet time – They can arrange for childcare/play dates for other children at home to provide periods of rest for both parents.

  • They can coordinate a meal train/schedule or help with routine household chores which can become unusually overwhelming.

  • Holding space - Be someone who can be shoulder to lean on when you can’t express how you are feeling.


Ask your care team questions

Upon discharge, your care team will meet with you to discuss the next steps in your physical, emotional and mental well being, as well as any medications you are prescribed and temporary restrictions you may have. We encourage you to retain all documentation and paperwork regarding your post-discharge instructions, post-partum follow up needs and mental health resources. Create a list of questions to discuss with your care team prior to discharge and, if possible, have your partner or support person present so they can answer any questions when you get home and help you get situated. Remember, there are no dumb, wrong or unusual questions. Common questions include:


  • What happens next regarding burial/cremation?

  • What postmortem testing options do we have?

  • How do I dry up my milk supply?

  • What resources are available for mental health support?


Leaving the hospital

Leaving the hospital without your baby is one of the most difficult parts of the journey. Many parents will carry bears so their arms feel less empty. You can request to be escorted out a separate entrance or certain time of day to avoid crowds, strangers and the public. It is important to remember, while you are leaving them behind, as their parent you are taking them and their love with you wherever you go.

Lactation support

After the loss of your baby, you may begin to make breast milk. It can be a painful reminder that while you are no longer pregnant, your body does not quite realize there is no baby in your arms. Lactation support for post-partum loss moms is virtually non-existent and leaves many suffering in silence.

Most women will choose to dry up their supply, as quickly (and painlessly) as possible. Others will decide to pump and donate their milk for use by NICU's and moms who cannot breastfeed for whatever their circumstance. Whatever you decide, your decision is what is right for you and your situation, and we support you.


  • Drying up your milk supply - Chilled cabbage leaves can be a great first step in this process.  Placing a leaf in each cup of your bra will help with the pain and swelling from engorgement.  Some say the enzymes found in cabbage can help dry up your milk, but more studies need to be done on that specifically. Other suggestions include small ice packs in your bra for short periods of time, nursing pads, specialty tea that can aid in drying and gentle breast massages. Read more here about drying up your milk supply.

  • Donate your milk supply -   Research in the United States shows that donating breast milk to a Human Milk Bank has helped some bereaved women identify as a mother, while grieving the loss of that motherhood. Donating your breast milk can be beneficial; not only through helping hospitalized premature infants, but also to help with your own personal grief.  Some say that donating breast milk to other infants helps find some positive meaning in the death of their own baby. It is important to understand, the process is a little more complex than pumping/expressing and dropping off your milk.  Milk Banks require a criteria screening, as well as testing your blood. Read more here about the process to donate and eligibility requirements.


Understanding the emotionality of breastfeeding

Expressing breastmilk for a baby who will not be nourished by it is physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting for the parent. We encourage reaching out to a lactation professional to support you through either option  Most provider accept insurance and it is a benefit you already may have. While some may find the presence of milk is upsetting and want to eliminate it as quickly as possible, other mothers find the milk to be a comforting reminder of their body’s ability to care for the baby they so love and had wished to care for and reserve some milk to create customized jewelry.. There is no right or wrong way to feel. It is their choice to follow.

Meaningful keepsakes

  • Breastmilk jewelry - DIY kids available or keepsakes can be created by lactation consultant or doula with the grieving parent’s milk

  • Can purchase meaningful jewelry to honor loss made from other’s donated breastmilk

  • Other support items can be produced from ashes, hair, placenta or meaningful flowers

Disposition options...

Upon discharge and decisions regarding postmortem testing/pathology, the next step is to find a funeral service provider that can handle their final preparations. Obviously, most parents having to contact a funeral provider do not have experience with it, let alone what to ask or expect. The information below serves as an overview for what you can expect and what the best options are based on your personal, cultural or religious needs.


Burial vs. Cremation options/considerations

  • Angel gowns – Many hospitals offer “angel gowns” to families as a burial or keepsake garment. They are hand sewn by volunteers out of donated wedding gowns. Ask your care provider if they have a gown for you.

  • Cremation - This is the most financially friendly option, however, may not be considerable for certain ethnic or religious groups. The raw cost of cremation should not be more than $200 (including transportation, cremation, legal certificate and urn).

  • Burial –  This cost of this option varies based on your specific wants and needs and could include burial plots or vaults (+/- $1,000), grave openings (+/- $1,000), burial costs (+/- $1,500) and headstone (+/- $1,500). This does not include the cost of the actual funeral ceremony/memorial service. We suggest postponing a memorial service until around the baby’s 1st birthday.

  • Green burial – This option only requires refrigeration/dry ice (instead of embalming) to preserve the body. The body is placed in a casket made of renewable/biodegradable materials and placed directly into the earth where they gradually return to the earth in natural progression. Note – access to this option may vary by State.


Finding a provider

No one ever imagines having to find a funeral home provider for their baby. There are many funeral homes that support families routinely and do so at little to no cost. There are other providers that do not support perinatal loss often and charge exorbitant amounts for their services leaving vulnerable families less likely to “shop around”.  Some providers have been known to pressure families in having full blown funerals shortly after their baby’s passing, leaving overwhelmed grieving parents unable to be present mentally during these milestone events. We recommend starting with a provider located closest to the hospital or their desired resting place. If you are cremating, finding a provider located closest to the hospital will help avoid transportation charges. It is ok to ask to see your baby at the home prior to burial/cremation as many providers will allow for a visitation with extended family and friends if that was something you were unable to do in the hospital prior to discharge.

Financial resources to offset disposition costs/medical bills

  • The TEARS Foundation – This organization compassionately lifts a financial burden from families who have lost a child by providing funds to assist with the cost of burial or cremation services. Funds are paid directly to the service provider to approved applicants.

  • NJ Funeral Assistance - If you receive financial assistance from the state of NJ, they may cover these costs for you. 

  • PA Funeral Assistance - If you receive financial assistance from the state of PA, they may cover these costs for you. 

  • Walk in Sunshine Foundation – Provides financial assistance to NJ families for burial.

  • Trappist Caskets – Handcrafted by Catholic monks, these caskets are donated to families who have lost a child. You can find their contact information online, however, you or your funeral service provider will need to call to order as they do not accept online orders. /child-fund/ Toll-free: (888) 433-6934

  • Aubrey's Advocate - Financial aid grants for families who experienced a stillbirth at 20 weeks gestation or later in the last 6 months. This grant money will be paid directly to the insurance company to be used as payment towards the labor and delivery cost of your hospital stay.

  • Collette Louise Foundation - This foundation provides financial assistance to families who find themselves in situations with pregnancy complications and/or NICU stays. Financial assistance can include, but is not limited to childcare for other children, travel and transportation, phone bills, and car insurance payments. Additionally, they provide financial assistance to families who lose a child due to miscarriage, stillborn, or as an infant. Financial assistance can include but is not limited to the funeral and burial expenses.

  • Hayden's Helping Hands - This foundation provides $1,000 for delivery medical costs of a stillborn baby.  Funeral expenses, prior doctor visits, check ups, aftercare, or any past due/collections medical bills are excluded/not applicable. Payments issued are paid directly to the institution issuing the invoice for the medical delivery bill(s).

  • The Fletcher Foundation - The Fletcher Foundation provides up to $500 of financial assistance to families after miscarriage or stillbirth, towards a hospital bill. 

  • Noelle's Light - Need-based financial assistance grants, up to $5,000, to families receiving treatment or after-life services following a fetal or congenital condition. All applications are required to be completed in tandem with a social worker.  If eligible, funding is directed to the vendor whose bill will be paid on behalf of the family.

Planning a memorial service...

Many families host a funeral or memorial service for their baby at the time of laying them to rest. Other families choose to postpone a memorial or funeral service for their babies.  First, this could be to offset costs of hosting a formal service. Families experience unexpected financial burdens and expenses associated with their loss. The cost of an actual service as part of the funeral is an additional expense that can feel rushed as you go through the motions.


Why wait? The fog of grief for perinatal loss parents can be thick and heavy for many months. Once some of that fog lifts, families often wish they had waited since they are more mentally and emotionally sound. Additionally, families are so spread out and not everyone may have been able to attend. Usually around the anticipated first milestones of due dates, birth and/or death dates, families feel more empowered by their grief and love for their baby and have found ways to connect with their sacred love. They want to do something, but they aren’t sure what! There are so many ways that you can host an affordable and meaningful service you will remember.


Meaningful options for memorial services

There are several ways you can plan a memorial service that honors your baby, raises awareness for perinatal loss and shatters the stigmas surrounding it. These include:


  • Birthday party -  Host a small gathering to celebrate your baby’s birthday with cake. Guests can bring a gift for the age your baby would be, and you can donate it to a charity that supports kids in need.

  • Butterfly release – Invite your loved ones to your home or a park where you can recite a poem and release butterflies in their memory

  • Spread their love and light – Host an environmentally friendly spreading of the ashes and/or have a lantern send off

  • Host a day of service – Donate your time, money or energy to a local organizational supporting perinatal health and wellness or raises funds for perinatal bereavement.

  • Join a memorial walk – There are so many groups that do walks for bereavement, perinatal health and research. Start a team in your baby’s name and spread their love around while celebrating others walking similar journeys.


Think outside the box!

For many families, the need to parent and memorialize their baby year after year has lead them to developing legacy projects or events to support other perinatal loss families. Big or small these projects and events have a tremendous impact in helping raise awareness for perinatal loss throughout the community as well as raise funds to support various projects and programs. There is no right or wrong way to honor your baby!


  • Light a candle on special days and holidays

  • Say a prayer or write a poem

  • Create a journal and talk to your baby and express your feelings

  • Print photos of you and your family with the baby or paint a picture for your home

  • Plant a tree or a small garden

  • Get a memorial tattoo

  • Have a piece of jewelry made, perhaps with the baby's birthstone

  • Donate to a charity or give something to a needy child who is about the same age as your baby would be

  • Do a random act of kindness in their memory

  • Participate in a community event like a memorial walk or remembrance ceremony

Other postpartum considerations...

Unfortunately, there are several options and considerations that need to be discussed prior to discharge regarding the next steps with your baby. Below are details on some options you have:


Postmortem pathology and testing options

Your care team should discuss options for postmortem testing that they believe can help in determining a cause for your loss and its impact on your future family building journey. This can include an autopsy, pathology or specific tests for you as the parent to complete. Each bit of detail that can be discovered and tested has the potential to provide a cause of death. The specific tests, their process and your personal thoughts and feelings need to be discussed. Ultimately, it is up to you if you have these tests completed. Often, they come at an expense not covered by insurance or there are not laboratories or providers nearby that can complete these tests. Additionally, these tests can delay laying your baby to rest and regrettably, the results may not offer any answers or insight as to a cause.


Post-partum appointments and follow ups

Despite your birth method or outcome, your OBGYN should schedule you for a follow up within six to eight weeks from discharge. You should also be provided contact information for postpartum support provided by the healthcare system. Please retain this information in the event you are in need of mental health support. When making an appointment for this follow up, be sure to let them know you experienced a loss, this is your first postpartum appointment and you may need the following considerations:


  • Scheduling appointments - Consider taking the first or last appointment of the day to avoid a busy waiting room

  • Special requests – It is absolutely ok for you to request special accommodations such as  a separate entrance/waiting area if possible to avoid being triggered by others, extra time in your appointment to ask questions or request resources. They should have no issues meeting your request.

  • Advocate for yourself – Tell the office how you would like you and your baby addressed or if you would prefer one doctor over another.

  • Be honest with your feelings – They cannot help you if you do not tell them how you are feeling. The postpartum period is sensitive regardless of birth outcome. They will not judge you.


Disability/time off

Short-term disability may be available to you based on your personal medical experience, laws in the State you reside, or through other benefits available to you with supplemental insurances, FMLA or union benefits. Specific details can be requested from representatives from each of these organizations.


Finding support

Three Little Birds offers peer-led support to the perinatal loss community in Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey through various virtual and in-person support groups and events. Since our founding, we have supported more than 400 families walking similar journeys at no cost. When the time is right for you, please know there is a community of other parents who want to support you and hear about your baby. Be sure to add your email to our distribution list for our monthly email with our support schedule.

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