Coping with stillbirth
Every year about 4,000 babies are stillborn, which means that the pregnancy has lasted 24 weeks or more but the baby is already dead when it’s born. About the same number die soon after birth (known as neonatal death). The causes of these deaths are often unknown.
Sometimes, a baby dies in the womb (called an intra-uterine death) and labour doesn’t start. If this happens, you’ll be given medicines to induce (start) the labour. This is the safest way of delivering the baby. It also means that you and your partner can see and hold the baby if you would like to.
It is shocking to lose a baby like this. You and your partner are likely to experience a range of emotions that come and go unpredictably. These can include disbelief, anger, guilt and grief. Some women think they can hear their baby crying, and it’s not uncommon for mothers to think they can still feel their baby kicking inside. The grief is usually most intense in the few months after the loss. Find out about coping with bereavement.
Some parents find it helpful to create memories of their baby, for example, seeing and holding the baby and giving him or her a name.
You may also like to have a photograph of your baby and to keep mementos such as a lock of hair, hand and footprints or the baby’s shawl. All this can help you and your family to remember your baby as a real person and can, in time, help you come to terms with your loss. You may also find it helpful to talk to your doctor, community health visitor, or to other parents who have lost a baby.
A post-mortem examination
One of the first questions you’re likely to ask is why your baby died. Sometimes, a post-mortem examination can provide some answers, but often no clear cause is found. A post-mortem may provide other information that could be helpful for future pregnancies and may rule out certain causes. If it’s felt that a post-mortem could be helpful, a senior doctor will discuss this with you. If you decide on a post-mortem, you’ll be asked to sign a consent form.
When the post-mortem report is available, you’ll be offered an appointment with a consultant who can explain the results to you and what they might mean for a future pregnancy.