How a stillbirth is confirmed 

Your baby's wellbeing will be monitored during your antenatal appointments, so any problems will usually be picked up before labour starts.

If it's suspected that your baby may have died, a midwife or doctor may initially try to listen to the baby’s heartbeat with a handheld Doppler device. An ultrasound scan will also be carried out to check your baby's heartbeat. A doctor will usually be asked to confirm that the baby has died by carrying out an ultrasound scan.

Sometimes, after the baby's death has been confirmed, a mother may still feel her baby moving. This can happen when the mother changes position. In this case the mother may be offered another ultrasound scan.

Finding out your baby has died is devastating. You should be offered support and your options should be explained to you. If you're alone in hospital, ask the staff to contact someone close to you and ask them to come in to be with you.

Read more about getting help after a stillbirth.

Giving birth

If a baby dies before labour starts, medication to start labour is usually offered. This is safer for the mother than having a Caesarean section.

If there's no medical reason for the baby to be born straight away, it may be possible to wait for labour to start naturally. This decision doesn't usually need to be made immediately and it may be possible to go home for a day or two first. In some cases, medication that prepares a woman’s body for the induction process may be recommended. This medication can take up to 48 hours to work.

Natural labour

While waiting for labour to begin naturally, regular blood tests are needed after 48 hours.

Waiting for labour to begin naturally also increases the chance of the baby deteriorating in the womb. This can affect how the baby looks when he or she is born, and can make it more difficult to find out what caused the death. 

Induced labour

If the health of the mother is at risk, labour is nearly always induced using medication. This may been done immediately if:

  • the mother has severe pre-eclampsia
  • the mother has a serious infection
  • the bag of water around the baby (the amniotic sac) has broken

Labour can be induced by inserting a pessary tablet or gel into the vagina, or by swallowing a tablet. Sometimes, medication is given through a drip into a vein in the arm.

Page last reviewed: 03/02/2015

Next review due: 03/02/2017