There is a very blurry line between miscarriage and stillbirth. A stillbirth is a birth of a deceased baby after 20 to 24 weeks gestation (varies by country). The miscarriage of babies at the end of the first trimester and into the second trimester closely resembles labor and delivery and thus stillbirth. In addition, much of the information on this site about miscarriage is also applicable to stillbirth. However, there are some differences.
The death of a baby in utero will often be the start of a many events in quick succession. There may not be much, if any, time between learning of the baby’s death and the admission to the hospital to be induced. There is likely no time to research or ask many questions, let alone think and start to face the grief of losing a child. Many parents are still in a state of shock as they begin to process their situation.
This page is a compilation of items women have shared who have been through a stillbirth and would like to help others who are facing the same tragedy. If you are reading this because you have lost your baby and you are looking at labor and delivery soon, please know we are praying for you and we hope this information is helpful to you.
Labor and Delivery
Keep all of your original labor plans the same, or as close as possible. If you had a doula or another kind of labor support, still ask them to come. Labor and delivery will be physically just as hard (if not more difficult due to induction), and emotionally even harder, than you had been planning. You will need all the support you can get as you labor.
This is not the time to play “hero”; some people choose to do a natural birth for their own reasons (such as offering up the suffering), while others opt for medical pain relief. Either way, it is not going to affect your baby and you should do what you feel most comfortable with at the time. Don’t feel bad about changing your mind, and definitely don’t beat yourself up for a decision you made in likely some of the most agonizing moments of your life.
Labor will likely be overwhelming. If possible, ask that no one discuss anything unrelated to the labor (especially funeral arrangements) while you are laboring. If you are able to plan ahead, consider having someone other than yourself or the baby’s father be in charge of answering other questions until after delivery.
Time with Your Baby and After
Snuggle, sing, kiss, and talk to him or her.
Breathe. Take the time that you need to look at all of your baby’s features and every tiny part of his or her body, including his or her eyes.
Make an agreement to talk freely with your spouse or partner; for instance, “Is it okay if I put this outfit on her?” Don’t assume it will bother them because you may be wrong, and you will never have another chance to see your baby like this.
Have Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep take pictures.
If possible, have time with only you and your spouse or partner and the baby, with no one else around. Have older siblings brought in later to meet the baby and take pictures, if that’s something you’d like to do.
Have footprints made. Use these, as well as any photos, ultrasounds, clothes, etc. to make a memory book.
Turn off your phone or other electronic devices and focus on your baby.
Bring items with you for photos with your little one, such as a teddy bear, blanket, hat, etc. That item will be so special later.
Ask to be moved, if possible, to a non-postpartum woman’s floor. It can be very painful to hear the cries of babies down the hall while in the labor and delivery area.
The Following Days
Send pictures and birth/death announcements to friends and family.
When having a funeral, spend time making sure things are the way that you want them and don’t be afraid to be an advocate for yourself and your family.
Invite anyone you want to attend the funeral. You can keep it small or invite a larger number of people. Remember that many people will likely want to share your grief and pray for your family and your child.
Important Things to Know
Depending on the time between the baby’s death and his or her birth, the body may already be showing some signs of death. This can include peeling skin, blisters, and bruises. The skin may also be a bit soft or sticky, but this can also be affected by how premature they were. Many of these signs will worsen quickly after delivery.
Kids, whether yours or friends’, can be confused by the death of the baby and may ask some blunt questions. If you do not want to talk about it at that moment, it is completely okay to tell the child that and explain that you are feeling sad. Do what you need to do.
You are still postpartum and going through the same recovery process as any other mother, even if you did not bring your baby home. You will still have the typical hormonal changes and mood swings in addition to the physical changes, and all that in addition to the grief you are experiencing. Be generous with yourself and allow others to help in any way they offer. Please note: You are at a higher risk for postpartum depression if you have suffered the loss of a child. Please call your doctor immediately if you think you may have it. There is medical help available.
Drying up Milk: If you are uncomfortable and not sure what to do, the best thing would be to call your doctor or a local lactation consultant. To suppress lactation, lactation consultants often encourage pumping only when you feel uncomfortable, and just enough to relieve pressure from your breasts. It is usually helpful to have a lot of pressure on your chest to suppress letdown reflexes, and lining your bra with cabbage leaves, as well as drinking sage tea, is also thought to help with engorgement. Check this website for more ideas.
Donating Milk: Preterm milk is pumped from a mother whose baby is born before about 36 weeks. It is thought to be even more nutrient dense than regular breast milk because of the unique needs of preterm babies. Either way, breast milk can be very good for babies and can be purchased from milk banks by parents whose child is preterm or in the hospital for another reason. Often there is some reason the mother is not able to produce milk herself. You can choose to pump your milk and donate it to a blood bank such as WakeMed Mother’s Milk Bank. You will have to be screened for health problems before donating and there will likely be many requirements, but some mothers choose to do this as a way to honor their baby. It will likely be very emotionally painful at times, and it’s also important to keep in mind the normal restraints of pumping breast milk, such as medication restrictions and the added hassle of toting around the equipment wherever you go.
Whatever you decide in regards to your milk supply, your health is the most important. So if you are going to lose sleep and make life more difficult for yourself, please make sure you discuss your decision with others and pray that you choose what is best for you and your family.