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Pregnancy and baby

Coping with stillbirth

In 2013, 3,284 babies were stillborn in England and Wales. This means that the pregnancy lasted 24 weeks or more, but the baby was not born alive. In the same year, 1,423 babies died in the first seven days after birth. A cause cannot always be found for these deaths.  

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.

Coping with your loss

It is an enormous shock to lose a baby in this way. 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, by seeing and holding the baby and giving him or her a name. You may also like to have a photograph of your baby and 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 GP, community midwife or health visitor, or to other parents who have lost a baby. The stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands can put you in touch with other parents who can offer support and information.

A post-mortem examination

One of the first questions you're likely to ask is why your baby died. A post-mortem examination can often provide some answers, but sometimes 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 or midwife 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.

Multiple births

The death of one baby from a multiple pregnancy (for example, if you were expecting twins) is very difficult for any parent. Grieving for the baby who has died while caring for and celebrating the life of the surviving baby brings very mixed and complex emotions. Often, the surviving baby is premature and receiving special care in a neonatal unit, which causes additional concern.

For information and support, you can contact The Multiple Births Foundation or Tamba, the twins and multiple births association.

Saying goodbye to your baby

A funeral or some other way of saying goodbye may be a very important part of coming to terms with your loss, however early it happens.

If your baby dies after 24 weeks of pregnancy, you will need to register the birth with the registrar of births, marriages and deaths, even if the baby was stillborn. The hospital may offer to arrange a funeral, burial or cremation. This may be free of charge or there might be a fee.

You may choose to organise a funeral, burial or cremation yourself. The hospital chaplain will be able to help you. You may prefer to contact someone from your own religious community, the British Humanist Association, The Miscarriage Association or Sands about the kind of funeral you want. You don't have to go to the funeral if you don't want to.

Many hospitals arrange a regular service of remembrance for all babies who die before or after birth. Again, you can choose whether or not you wish to attend.

Many parents are surprised by how much and how long they grieve for after losing a baby. Friends and acquaintances often don't know what to say or how to offer support, and they may expect you to get back to "normal" before you are ready.

Sands and The Miscarriage Association can put you in touch with people who have been through similar experiences and can offer support and information.

healthtalk.org has videos and written interviews of people talking about their experiences of stillbirth and neonatal death.

Page last reviewed: 19/03/2015

Next review due: 19/03/2017

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Stores1 said on 04 April 2015

Unfortunately, I feel that there is some insensitive and inaccurate use of language in this article, which is fairly typical if it has been written by somebody who hasn't been through this experience themselves. Most notably the following:

'All this can help you and your family to remember your baby as a real person.'

Of course this child is a 'real' person.

Also, the fact that that, 'you may wish to give him or her a name.' Again, many parents will have named their children prior to birth and even imagined them in a few years time!

The fact that there are still so many stillbirths in this country in 2015 is shocking and many of these stillbirths could be prevented. I think we need to look more closely at the reasons why these preventable stillbirths are still occuring in this day and age.

Additionally, more knowlegeable sensitivity needs to be taken when applying language in these 'helpful' articles which are intending to give guidance and solace to bereaved parents and their families.

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rollingstone said on 11 February 2013

I was wondering if the the sentence which says
"the hospital will offer to arranage a funeral, burial or cremation free of charge"
Should be change to The hospital "may offer" as this is misleading and upsetting if the trust doesnt provide this service.
Thank you

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