A stillbirth is when a baby dies after the 24th week of a pregnancy or during birth.
It’s a devastating experience for parents and can affect you and your family in ways you don’t expect.
How you might be feeling
Your emotions will likely be in turmoil and you might feel angry, guilty, sad and lonely but also love and pride. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.
If you already have children, think about how they might be feeling too and what support they’ll need.
This is a very difficult time for you and everyone close to you so it’s important to support each other and ask for help if you need it.
Causes of stillbirth
The stillbirth or death of a newborn baby can happen for lots of reasons and doctors don’t yet know all the causes.
Some are linked to problems with the placenta or mum’s health and others to the baby's health or development but in some cases the reason can’t be explained.
Death during pregnancy
If your baby dies before birth, labour is usually induced. Going through labour and giving birth is the safest option for most women, even though it can be very distressing.
It’s natural to want to know why this happened. It’s not always possible to know why your baby died and that can be hard to come to terms with.
Your midwife and obstetrician will be there to support you through it. They will tell you what to expect and give you whatever help you need.
Should I hold my baby?
Your midwife or doctor will ask if you’d like to see or hold your baby. You might want to involve other members of your family too.
If you’re worried about what your baby looks like, your midwife or doctor can describe them to help you decide. Many parents find it comforting to see, touch and hold their baby and, if you want to, you can bath and dress them.
Your midwife can talk to you about a Cuddle Cot, a special cooling mattress inside a cot which can let you spend more time with your baby in the hospital or at home.
This gives you more time to say goodbye, with the support of family and friends.
If the hospital doesn’t have a Cuddle Cot then there are other organisations that can organise one for bereaved parents. Ask your midwife.
After a stillbirth
What you choose to do is very personal and individual, as is the way you grieve.
Specialist help and support is available for parents and families who have lost a baby and your midwife, family nurse and health visitor can help you to find the right support locally.
Registering a stillbirth
Your baby’s stillbirth must be registered. Your midwife and the hospital staff can advise you how to do this.
You can’t officially register a baby lost before 24 weeks of pregnancy, but some hospitals will give you a certificate in memory of your baby if you ask.
More about registering the death of a baby
You’ll need time to think what you’d like for your baby’s funeral. This could be a burial or cremation with a service in the style of your choice. Take as much time as you need to decide on the right way to say goodbye.
All hospitals in Scotland will offer a funeral service for your baby free of charge or you may choose to make your own private arrangements, which can give you more choice and control.
More about funeral arrangements
Coping with the loss of a baby
Everyone reacts differently to the loss of a baby. Your emotions might be overwhelming and you might feel physically drained too.
Take time to rest and look after yourself. It’s important to know you are not alone and have done nothing wrong.
More about coping with the loss of a baby
If you lost your baby after 13 weeks, you'll be offered a post-mortem (autopsy). This is a medical investigation to try to understand what happened and find out if there are issues that could affect a future pregnancy
Whether or not to have a post-mortem can be a difficult decision and you’ll be given support and time to think it over. If you have questions or worries, ask the person who discusses the post-mortem with you.
Recovering from a stillbirth
You will need care from your midwife and doctor to make sure your body is recovering. Your midwife will assist you through all the decisions you need to make and help you to find the right support.
You don’t have to manage alone and it can sometimes help to talk with others who have been through baby loss. You, your baby’s father or your partner and your family are likely to need time to grieve.
Remembering your baby
Some parents find it helps to do something to remember their baby, like:
- creating a space in their garden
- saying a prayer
- writing a poem
Others keep photographs, handprints or footprints, or locks of their baby's hair in a memory box. No matter what stage of pregnancy your loss is, you can make a memory box – ask your midwife about this. Some hospitals give special boxes to parents just for this.
Some parents don’t want to do any of these things, and that’s okay too. There’s no right or wrong way.