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Explaining Sudden Infant Death to a Child

Updated on June 14, 2017

How to explain sudden infant death to a young child?

Sudden infant deaths can be difficult for even doctors to explain and understand. An infant dies and even a medical examiner is unable to explain why or find a cause of death. For unknown reasons a seemingly healthy infant dies suddenly and unexpectedly. Often there are siblings of very young age who want to know why? what happened? where is the baby now? Explaining to a 3 to 5 year old can be even more difficult because they do not understand the permanence of death and may believe that the infant will return eventually.

Try to keep it simple too many details are difficult for a child of that age to understand. A child that young will morn very differently than adults and may act out rather than crying. With the adults in the home distraught and crying a child may feel scared and confused and will require additional attention and understanding. There are children's books that explain infant death in children's terms. These books are helpful at a time when you are unsure what to say. The books will not only help to explain things they will open communication, reading together also serves as personal attention and together time. Books will help your child to understand that they are not the only one who this has happened to.

It is important to be carefull what you say about the infant dieing. Saying too little can leave a child thinking the wrong things and trying to fill in the blanks. Saying too much may leave the child feeling confused. Let your child know it is ok to be Mad and sad. We adults are angry and sad too. Its not fair but we cant change what happened.

My personal experience

On the morning of march 28, 2009 my 21 year old daughter came into my room and woke me. The words still ring in my head "Ma!! The baby is not breathing!" I jumped from my bed and ran into the room telling her to call 911. My attempts to revive her failed. The moment I saw the red flash of light hit the window i scooped her up and ran her to the arriving rescue team . I saw the look on the face of the paramedic as I passed her over to him and knew at that moment she was gone. My four year old grandson was still sleeping. He had longed for a sister and was so in love with her. I dreaded telling him.

When he awoke and asked where his mom and sister had gone all I could say was that something was wrong with the baby and his mom took her to the hospital. "I don't think they will be able to fix her". When my daughter returned we told him that the baby had died and that the doctors couldn't fix her. He kept asking to go see her. She was with the medical examiner on her way to an autopsy there was no way possible and I don't think at his age seeing her dead would have been a good idea. At the funeral we mainly kept him outside or in a different building he never saw her in the coffin but I think he knew she was there. We were too afraid he might move her hat because we had been informed that her head was cut during the autopsy and we were not sure of what his reaction would be if he did see her. His mom also felt that due to his age she didn't want that image to take over any memory that he may have of her.

A few weeks later he told me that he knew what happened to the baby. He said he thought that she must have been all cut up with her bones all broken and that made her die. I quickly informed him that, that was not true! She was sleeping and she just stopped breathing. That may not have been the best thing to say because for awhile he would stay awake at night and try not to sleep. A family member had sent a book to us. I thought it would help so I read it to him. When I got to the part that the baby died I suddenly had his full attention and he wanted me to read the book over to him.

I think it helped him to understand alot more than any words I was able to come up with. I think the hardest part for him was watching us fall apart. We explained that we were sad about the baby and he told us he was too and he missed her. He started acting out a lot throwing things and just trying to get our attention. He said he was mad about his sister. I told him I was mad too!

If you need to explain this to a young child I am so sorry this happened to you too. I wish you the best. Keep in mind the child is suffering too. Reading with your child is a positive experience for them and will give them the attention they need right now. It will bring about a better understanding that it is OK to be sad and angry we all are. In time we will feel a little better.

Months Later

Months later while shopping for school shoes for my grandson, he found the cutest little pair of baby girl Nike's. He asked me if instead of buying him school shoes, if I could buy his baby sister the Nikes and send them to her. He said she was at the dead baby's doctors and wanted to know if we could mail them to her. I had to leave the store. I still cry often and miss her daily. At times even now it is so difficult to explain to him. He knows she is dead, we tell him she is an angel with wings. The wings are important because when we first told him she was in heaven he was worried that she might fall all the way back to the ground. Sometimes we release balloons that he writes on to send to her. I know this is bad for the environment and I feel a little guilty and selfish releasing balloons because there is no telling where these balloons will come down. At the same time I see that this is helping him to understand because we watch the balloons till they are out of sight. Gone to heaven where we can not see them or ever get them back. He believes she catches the balloons when they get up to her and she likes all the little hearts and pictures he draws for her.


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    • lisamrcx profile image

      lisamrcx 8 years ago from Florida

      Mom, you did a good job with this! I havent read it until tonight but it sounds good. The anxiety still ruining through my body just thinking about it although it sounds really good :)

      Love ya lots,


    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      I'm so sorry to hear this, lisamrcx. It must be difficult to not turn this outcome into anger. The lost of any loved one isn't easy for anyone of us in this world. I wish that I had the words to alleviate you of your pain and to tell you that things will be better. However, the best thing for you to do is to turn your anger into charity and to honor your grand daughter's memory by striving to radiate as much love as you can, as love will breed only more love.

      Thank you for your story. I wish you all the best in your progress forward and your family's progress. Best wishes to all.

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 8 years ago from Returned to an Isla Del Sol - Puerto Rico Will Rise Strong

      A very good informative hub. Please know you and your daughter and grandson are in my prayers.