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Your Pregnancy Loss Explained: Stillbirth

Losing a baby to stillbirth can cause you to feel overwhelmed and distraught, especially when doctors can’t tell you why you lost your baby. But there are methods that will help you cope.

No matter how far you were into your pregnancy, you will feel heartbroken about losing your baby. But when you lose a child late on in pregnancy, the sense of bereavement can become overwhelming.

Losing a baby after 24 weeks is medically described as stillbirth. Although it is relatively rare, one in 200 pregnancies end this way, and 11 babies are stillborn every day in the UK.

Worried you’re losing your baby?

If you think you’re losing your baby go to your doctor to be checked over. At whatever stage you miscarry, you may be recommended to undergo a procedure to ensure all of your pregnancy has come away.

This may involve using medication or a process called dilation and curettage (D&C). If you lose your baby after 24 weeks, your baby needs to be buried or cremated. You can arrange this yourself or the hospital can do it for you.

Spend some time with your baby first if you can. Saying goodbye will help you begin to process your loss.

Understanding what’s happened after a stillbirth

It is difficult to establish the cause of death in almost half of stillbirths, which can leave you feeling confused, angry or guilty.

Stillbirth and miscarriage are separately defined not because one is easier to deal with than the other, but because there are many differences between them.

They have different causes, and need different evaluations, which means often the way in which parents and families need help can be different. Your doctor will be able to guide you through this process.

Coping with your loss

It's completely normal to feel lost in grief, anger and sadness following a stillbirth. There are ways to help yourself start to heal emotionally.

‘Gather together hospital scans, letters, appointments and pregnancy tests and place them in a box,’ says fertility specialist and therapist Susie Gower. ‘You could bury this box and say a few words, or keep it somewhere safe that you could revisit when you feel you need to. This is a way of saying goodbye, and can be of great comfort.’

Sharing your feelings with others is a positive way of releasing your emotions and ensuring you feel supported by those around you. If you don’t feel ready to confide in others, write a daily journal or a letter to your unborn baby.

Write something that will not be shared or read by anyone else or a letter expressing the impact of your loss will help you to understand how you are feeling and move along your recovery.

Registering a stillbirth

By law, all babies who are stillborn must be registered. This also gives you an opportunity to acknowledge the birth, and can act as a way of saying goodbye.

Stillbirths must usually be registered within 42 days and cannot be registered more than three months after the birth. Once registered, you cannot change your baby’s name if you have decided to name her. Visit the DirectGov website for help with registering a stillbirth.

Stillborn support networks

Sands (Stillbirth & neonatal death charity)
Confidential helpline: 020 7436 5881

The Miscarriage Association
Helpline: 01924 200 799

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