Memorial Casting

Memorial Casting

Author : Michelle Williams

Memorial Baby Casting

From time to time as a Professional Baby Life Caster, you may be called upon to take a life cast of a baby who has passed away. Sadly, all too often, I hear that many Life Casters feel anxious about the prospect of casting in this situation; having little experience and exposure to the clinical aspects of casting a deceased baby or working with bereaved families.

This is something that I would like to change. Being able to offer this type of service to bereaved families is such a gift. I was privileged to have met Baby Hector (featured in this video) and taken casts of his tiny hands and feet. It was my absolute honor to offer this service to Hector's parents, Jess and Adam, which I know meant so much.  I would therefore like to encourage Professional Life Casters to become more actively involved.  

No parent should ever face losing a child and every parent should have the opportunity of making memories with their baby, regardless of circumstances or where they live.

It is my hope to help grieving parents, by more widely educating the Life Casting Community about the clinical aspects of casting babies who have died, so that they feel more confident, when called upon to do so. In doing so, I hope that there will be greater opportunities for bereaved families to create special, everlasting memories of their much loved and never forgotten babies.

I have written this article in combination with, Jenny Walsh, Trustee and Founder of Judah’s Cloud, a charity dedicated to helping parents facing the loss of a baby or child by providing a casting service across the UK.

Judah’s Cloud was launched in 2017 by Jenny and her husband, Chris, after their son, Judah, was stillborn at 40 weeks gestation. The charity helps support bereaved parents, by working with healthcare professionals, trusts and other organisations, to offer families who are facing heart-breaking loss, the best care and opportunities to make memories of their beautiful babies.

By working together, it is our hope that bereaved families, can gain access to bereavement casting, no matter where they live; either through our accredited network of Casters, at The Keepsake Guild, or through Judah’s Cloud service that works directly with hospitals and hospices.

If you are a professional Life Caster, who would like to be added to our directory of Life Casters, please apply here. Alternatively, you can contact Judah’s Cloud to discuss volunteering to fill and finish casts as part of their service.

If you are a Life Caster, but feel anxious about the clinical aspects of casting a baby or child who has passed away, please follow the tips and advice below, which you should use in combination with your Life Casting Training.

Tips for Casting a deceased baby

If you are asked to attend a Hospital to cast a deceased baby or child, speak to a midwife or nurse to request a quiet room where you can cast the baby. You will require a quiet place to work, with plenty of space, without the pressure of watchful eyes from visiting family and friends. The bereaved parents may wish to hold their baby, whilst you take the castings which can be a beautiful opportunity for them to make memories. However, every family reacts differently, and some parents may not be present or want to be involved, in which case please ask a staff member to assist, whilst you take the moulds.

A deceased baby may be much smaller than you are used to casting, especially if they were born prematurely or are growth restricted. So, it is important to prepare yourself with suitably sized containers. When casting a premature baby, you are more likely to require small, shallow dishes or containers, rather than the deeper containers that you are more likely to be accustomed to.

Be aware that the body temperate of a baby who has already died will be much cooler than you will be used to, so you will need to adjust the water temperature accordingly. In most circumstances, bereaved parents are provided with a ‘Cuddle Cot’ in which to place their Baby. This is a cooling unit, which allows families to spend extra time with their Baby before they have to say goodbye. A Cuddle Cot keeps the baby cool and delays deterioration. Due to the lower body temperature, the alginate will take longer to set, so I suggest that you adjust the water temperature to make it slightly warmer to avoid fingers and toes wrinkling.

You will also benefit from mixing a little bit more water than usual, so that the mould is less rigid and more flexible when set. This will make removing the baby’s hands and feet from the mould much easier.

In a lot of cases, when you are asked to cast a deceased baby, you may discover that they have very fragile skin. This is referred to as skin slip or slippage, which usually starts as a formation of water blisters under the skin, before looking like loose skin; making the skin very fragile and prone to damage. In this case, always use baby oil to allow for an easier release from the mould. You should also assess whether the damage is too significant to take a safe mould. For picture examples of this, please contact Judah’s Cloud.

If you are asked to Cast a baby who is already at a Funeral Home or more than a few days have passed since birth/death, skin deterioration is more likely to have occurred. In such circumstances, it is unlikely that you will be able to hold the Baby to take the Cast, in which case, you will need to use a shallow, flat container to cast the baby, rather than a deeper pot or cup. If parents aren’t in attendance, you can ask the funeral director for support to position the baby towards the edge of a hard surface (a table covered by an absorbent sheet is perfect), with their arm or foot hanging off the edge for easy access. Please ensure someone is responsible for supporting the baby in this position to avoid any accidents.

If the baby has fragile skin, or where there is any evidence of slippage, I would recommend mixing the alginate slighter thicker, to give you more control. Once mixed, pour it into a shallow container, before carefully placing the baby’s hand, palm down, on top of the alginate, so that it is laying flat, rather than fully submerged. Carefully push the palm and fingers down into the alginate to take an impression of the hand or foot. If the skin is fragile, do not fully submerge the entire hands and feet, simply take a 2D impression of them in alginate. These can then be cast and framed to display the 2 Dimensional impression, rather than a full 3D Cast.

Alternatively, if you wish, you can create a two-part alginate mould. You can do so, by first, pouring a relatively thick layer of alginate into a shallow container. Then, just before it has firmed up, place the baby’s hand, palm down onto it, gently pushing the palm and fingers into the alginate to take a 2D impression. Once the alginate has set, cut some keys around the side of the mould, before pouring a second layer of alginate over the un-submerged upper part of the hand or foot. When set, the top layer can then be gently removed, without causing any damage to the skin. The two halves of the mould will make a full mould once slotted together. Simply line up, by matching up the key’s, then wrap in cling film, to secure and hold in shape, before pouring in the casting plaster.

Once you have taken the alginate moulds, it is important to keep them cool until you can cast them. For safe transportation, I suggest you carefully place the moulds in a cool bag with a few freezer blocks and cast them as soon as you return to your studio.

It is important when handling the moulds, you understand they may contain little bits of blood, skin or other bodily fluids, so you should handle them with care. We suggest disinfecting the moulds by submerging them in a disinfectant solution, although you must ensure all of the solution has been completely removed before filling. It is equally important that you dispose of the moulds safely. If you are a life caster who regularly take these type of casts, you should consider investing in clinical waste disposal. However, for infrequent memorial casts double bagging and placing in your general waste is sufficient. Gloves, aprons and any other PPE or materials should be disposed of in the same way, and all surfaces disinfected.

Cast and frame as usual, baring in mind that due to their size the casts are likely to be much more fragile than usual and you are likely to require a much smaller frame. Bereaved parents have very little opportunities to create memories, so if you have taken additional moulds it is important you give parents the opportunity to keep the additional casts however they turned out. Parents also like to hold casts as well as framing, so if it is safe to take more moulds, always offer this option.

I would also recommend that you ask the parents to sign a consent form to confirm that they are happy for you to continue with the process, before you begin.  

I hope that you have found this article helpful, in understanding how to cast a baby who has passed away and in combination with your Baby Casting Training will arm you with the confidence that you need to offer this important and valuable service to bereaved parents.

Don’t forget, if you are a Professionally Trained Life Caster that would like to be added to our directory of Life Casters, please apply here.

Altentively, if you are interested in training to become a Memory Maker or Professional Life Caster, please browse our range of Life Casting Courses and Keepsake Jewellery Courses here.

Finally, if you are a Professinally Trained Life Caster, thaat would like to volunteer for Judah’s Cloud, please register here:

In honor of Baby Hector, featured in this video, if you would like to find out more about Hector's story, please click here.