Minnesota Sudden Infant Death Center
Who is affected by sudden infant death?
Because the death of an infant death is unexpected and tragic, the grief of surviving family members is intense and painful.
Many parents experience guilt, anger, fear, shock, denial and depression. Their suffering is a very personal experience and can appear in many different ways. To all parents, though, the loss of their baby is devastating.
- The Death of a Child, the Grief of the Parents: A Lifetime Journey [PDF]
- Helping Yourself Heal When A Baby Dies [PDF]
Other children in the family are also deeply affected by the death. Their mourning will be as individual as that of their parents. If very young, these brothers and sisters may express their feelings through actions and play rather than talking. They may develop physical symptoms or regress to less mature behavior. Older children may develop problems in the school setting, or may suddenly develop extreme fears. Like their parents, the children's reactions can include anger, guilt, anxiety and great sadness. All these feelings are normal.
- Helping Children Cope with Grief When an Infant Dies [PDF]
Often, the death touches family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and relatives as well. The grandparents' grief, especially, may be intensified by the grief for their own child as well as the loss of a grandchild. Occasionally the death may occur while the infant is in the care of a child care provider. They, too, are significantly affected by the death.
- Selected Resources for Grieving Parents, Their Families,, Friends, and Other Caregivers [PDF]
- Grandparents Grief – Who is Listening?
- A Message to Bereaved Grandparents [PDF]
If you or someone you know has experienced the death of an infant, feel free to call the MN SID Center for more information, support groups, and resources: 612-813-6285 or toll free 1-800-732-3812.
- Link to our Grief Resources section.
Using the Tasks of Mourning to Soothe Holiday Heartaches
By Linda Lehmann, M.A., L.P.
Sigmund Freud was the first person to describe grief as "hard work." Many years later psychologist William Worden took Freud's description a step further when he described a series of tasks that the griever must accomplish as he or she moves through the process of grief. Worden calls the steps in the process tasks because he says that grief is "hard work". Additionally, Worden called these steps tasks because it calls upon the griever to be an active participant in his or her healing. We, as grievers do not need to be victims to our grief. There actually are things we can do that will help us with our grief.
As the holidays approach you may feel ill-prepared to face the stress of the season as you feel the intense pain and sadness around your child's death. You can choose to ignore your grief, minimize your grief, busy yourself with the distractions of the season and fall victim to it, or you can approach the holidays with intention. Following is a description of Worden's Tasks of Mourning with suggestions of how to use them to help you soothe your holiday heartaches.
To accept the reality of the loss
Often those of us who grieve fail to accept the reality of our loss as we plan for the holidays. We trick ourselves into thinking that we need to forge ahead and make our plans just as we have in years past and totally ignore our new reality. When we ignore our new reality, we heap added stress onto our battered hearts. This year, as you look toward the holidays, think about how you will acknowledge your child's death and the stress of that event by:
Deciding, as a group or individually, a way in which your child's death will be acknowledged and remembered in terms of:
- Greeting cards
- Gift giving
- Family get-togethers
- Social gatherings
Deciding, realistically, what your level of involvement will be over the holidays. Recognize you may not be able to do it all this year. Ask for help.
Recognizing that grief affects your total being. Diligent self-care is of utmost importance.
- Rest more
- Drink more water
- Pamper yourself (take a hot bubble bath, have a body massage, get a manicure, try a new hairstyle, or buy a new outfit)
- Take time out to listen to your favorite holiday music
- Increase your physical exercise
- Slow down
- Avoid too much alcohol, caffeine, overeating, sugar, over-scheduling and overworking.
- Allow for unstructured time
- Have an escape plan. Make your plans but give yourself permission to scrap the plans if they don't work for you. Inform family members and friends that you may need to change your plans on the spur of the moment if your plans seem too overwhelming.
To work through to the pain of grief
We cannot heal our grief, if we don't allow ourselves to feel our grief. If you scurry yourself through the holiday season, over schedule yourself and run yourself ragged, your feelings of grief will go underground and resurface after the holidays. Then they have the potential to be more overwhelming and more painful. But, if you give yourself permission to find moments that will allow you to feel your pain, it will honor your grief and honor the death of your child despite all of the other distractions. Here are some suggestions:
- Take a pity bath. Fill your bathtub full of water, sit in it, and feel sorry for yourself for a few moments
- Schedule time to allow yourself the freedom of a whole range of feelings
- Write in a journal or draw pictures about your feelings
- Join a support group
- Listen to music that evokes feelings inside of you
- Express your feelings through movement or exercise
- Pray or meditate
- Share remembrances of past holidays with someone who will listen
- Find a witness to your pain. Be honest about your pain with someone you trust.
To adjust to an environment in which the person is missing
The holidays painfully remind us how much our lives have changed because our loved one has died. Never are we more aware how much we miss that person in our lives and the role that he or she played in our lives. As parents, so much of your time and energy around the holiday season is focused on your children and how to deliver holiday magic to them. This year you may feel at a loss. If you have no other children you may wonder, "What's the point?" If you have other children, you may find it difficult to motivate yourself to make their holiday special. Here are some things to consider as you adjust to the holidays without the presence of your child who died:
- Identify the role your loved one or what you lost played in the holidays. Who will play this role now? Can members of the family share this role?
- Identify what kind of practical support you need and then ask for it.
- Make adjustments as necessary because of the death of your child. What needs to be changed? What holiday traditions don't work for you anymore? Develop new traditions. What holiday traditions still work for you and for your family? How can you hold onto those? What can stay the same? Practice flexibility.
- Write your own script about the holiday season and then make it happen. Sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down your ideas. Talk to your family about it. Solicit help from others who can help you carry out your plan.
To emotionally relocate your loved one and reinvest your energy in new ways
This year your grief may be a huge presence in your life. But as you move through your grief, the intense feelings of grief will ease over time if you allow yourself to feel your grief. You may want to focus your energy on others who are walking a similar path or who are less fortunate than you. You may want to resume traditions of the past or begin accepting invitations to holiday events again. This shift does not signal that you have forgotten your child who died and moved past your grief, it just means that you take your child with you as you venture forward in your life. You may want to:
- Find ways to donate time, money or yourself to others less fortunate than you.
- Pick and choose social functions that you want to resume attending.
- Commemorate your loss.
To re-define a new identity as you incorporate the loss into your sense of self
This fifth task has been added to Worden's four tasks of mourning. For most of you this task is something you will address further down the road on your journey of grief. The space of time and distance will lessen your pain and propel you forward into the rest of your life. When you get to this place, this task will allow you to put the death of your child into the bigger picture of your life. You will come to a place where you can see that, while the death of your child is a huge piece of your life story, it is not the only story. Certainly your child's death informs and defines the choices you make and the way you will live your life the rest of your life; but, you don't leave your child in your past, you carry your child with you into the rest of your life. You can do this by:
- Embracing new pieces of your identity that emerge
- Reading about grief, spiritual, and philosophical thought
- Finding new meanings in the holiday season as a result of the death of your child.
Linda Lehmann, MA, LP, copyright, 2005
The Minnesota Sudden Infant Death Center is available for information, guidance and support. The Center directs a statewide information and counseling network. It is dedicated to supporting all those who experience the sudden death of an infant from any cause by providing counseling, information, and broad-based education.
The goals of the Center are:
- Identify cases of sudden, unexpected infant death in Minnesota
- Reach out with information and support to bereaved families
- Participate in research
- Educate professionals and the public about sudden unexpected infant death
- Promote risk reduction strategies
The Center coordinates an extensive statewide consultation and information network so local resources are better equipped to serve families.
- Support groups
- Referral to public health nurses
- Quarterly newsletter
- Education programs and materials
The death of a child is devastating for families and communities. When the death is sudden and unexpected, survivors also are traumatized. The grief following a sudden death can be even more intense and prolonged. Parents and many others are deeply affected.
The Minnesota Sudden Infant Death Center at Children's is a statewide program that provides information, counseling, and support to anyone experiencing a sudden and unexpected infant death from any cause. In addition, the Center, in keeping with its original mission, continues to be Minnesota's resource for information on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and SIDS risk reduction.
The Minnesota SID Center conducts training and educational programs for health care providers, child care workers, and other professional and community groups. The Center tracks infant mortality trends in Minnesota and participates in local, state, and national initiatives to reduce the risk of sudden, unexpected infant death.
The Minnesota SID Center is a partnership between Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health. More about Minnesota SID Center
In the News
Governor Mark Dayton declares Sept. 23-27, 2013 Infant Safe Sleep Week.
Keep Baby Safe During Sleep
Research shows that following safe sleep rules can help lower your baby's risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and protect baby from suffocation and accidents during sleep.
- Healthy babies should sleep on their backs
- Check with your nurse or doctor
- Follow the Safe Sleep Top 10
- Make a safe place for baby to sleep
- Safe and asleep in a crib of their own
- Tummy time is important
- Helping baby sleep on his back
Contact the Minnesota
Minnesota SID Center
Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
2525 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
1-800-732-3812 (toll free)
- IKEA recalls crib mattresses due to risk of entrapment. Read more
- Angelcare recalls 600,000 baby monitors due to 2 strangulation deaths. Read more
- AAP expands guidelines for infant sleep safety and SIDS Risk Reduction. Read more
- New crib requirements for child care providers effective December 28, 2012. Read more
- Bexco Recalls DaVinci Brand Cribs Due to Entrapment, Fall and Laceration Hazards. Read more
Funeral Assistance Available
With the generous support of two families' fundraisers, the MN SID Center is able to provide funeral assistance to newly bereaved families. We will be able to provide up to $500 to help with such things as burial assistance, headstones, flowers, transportation, clothing, etc. Families should contact the MN SID Center for more information.
- HALO SleepSacks Wearable Blankets Recalled Due to Choking Hazard; Sold Exclusively at Babies R Us. (Full Details)
- Five Infant Deaths Prompt CPSC to Sue Manufacturer of Nap Nanny and Chill Infant Recliners (Full Details)
- Suffocation, Entrapment Risks Prompt Recall of PeaPod Travel Tents by KidCo (Full Details)
- CPSC bans drop sided cribs (Full Details)
- Deaths prompt CPSC, FDA warning on infant sleep positioners (Full Details)
- Smith+Noble Recalls Roman and Roller Shades (Full Details)
- Search the Safe Crib Center Resource for updates on recalled cribs (Full Details)
Parent Support Group
The parent support group meets on the first Wednesday of the month from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Minnesota Sudden Infant Death Center Newsletter
Kathleen Fernbach, BSN, RN, PHN
Patrick Carolan, MD
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant under 1 year of age which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history (Willinger et al., 1991).
SIDS is ...
- the major cause of death in infants from 1 month to 1 year of age, with most deaths occurring between 2 and 4 months
- sudden and silent—the infant was seemingly healthy
- a death often associated with sleep and with no signs of suffering
- a recognized medical disorder
- determined only after an autopsy, an examination of the death scene, and a review of the infant's and family's clinical histories
- a diagnosis of exclusion
- an infant death that leaves unanswered questions, causing intense grief
SIDS is not ...
- preventable, but the risk can be reduced by placing the baby on his or her back to sleep on a firm surface, by making sure the baby has a smoke-free environment, and by keeping the baby from being overheated
- caused by vomiting and choking or by minor illnesses such as colds or infection
- caused by the diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DPT) vaccines or other immunizations
- child abuse or neglect
- the cause of every unexpected infant death