Your baby's wellbeing will be monitored during your antenatal appointments, so any problems will usually be picked up before labour starts.
Confirming your baby has died
If it's suspected your baby may have died, a midwife or doctor may offer you an ultrasound scan to check your baby's heartbeat.
The person doing the scan will usually ask for a second opinion to confirm that the baby’s heart is not beating.
You are entitled to ask for a second opinion or another scan to confirm your baby’s death.
Finding out your baby has died is devastating. Your healthcare team will support you through your loss.
If you're alone in hospital, ask the staff to contact someone close to you to come in and be with you.
Your healthcare team will:
- talk to you
- answer any questions you may have
- explain your options for the delivery of your baby
They may examine you to make sure you are well and look for signs of infection or pre-eclampsia. They may also do some initial blood or urine tests.
It is hard to make important decisions when you are grieving. Take time to think things over. Talk with your partner and family and ask any questions you may have. It may help you to write down questions to ask your healthcare team.
Giving birth if your baby has died
If labour does not begin immediately, your healthcare team will talk to you about your options.
They will base their advice on:
- how far into your pregnancy you are
- any medical problems you have had
- if this is your first time experiencing labour
- if you have previously had a caesarean birth
If there's no medical reason for the baby to be born straight away, it may be possible to wait for labour to begin naturally. You may be able to go home to think things through.
When you do birth your baby, the staff in your maternity unit or hospital will usually give you a private room on the hospital ward and on the labour ward.
Your healthcare team will be aware of the devastation that parents can feel at this time. They will do all they can to treat you with dignity and respect.
The options that may be available to you are:
- induced labour
- natural labour
- caesarean birth
Most women choose induced labour. This is when you are given medicine to induce the birth of your baby.
You will be given tablets to take 24 to 48 hours before being admitted into hospital.
If your health is at risk, labour is nearly always induced.
This may be done immediately if:
- you have severe pre-eclampsia
- you have a serious infection
- the bag of water around the baby (the amniotic sac) has broken
- you have heavy vaginal bleeding
You may choose to stay at home to let labour begin naturally. It is usually safe to wait for a period of time. Sometimes it can take more than 3 weeks before labour begins.
If you do wait for a labour to begin naturally, this could affect the appearance of your baby when they are born. There is also a chance that you could become unwell yourself. You will be asked to attend your maternity hospital for regular check-ups during this time, and the advice about when to have your baby may change.
Urgent advice: Call your maternity unit or hospital immediately if you have any of the following symptoms while waiting:
- fever (high temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher)
- smelly vaginal discharge
- pain in your tummy
- not feeling well
Vaginal birth is safer
You and your partner may feel distressed by the thought of labour and birthing your baby.
A vaginal birth is recommended because:
- it is the safest for you
- it is safer for future pregnancies
- you will physically recover more quickly
- your partner will be able to stay with you
- you will be able to go home sooner
If you have had a caesarean birth in the past, vaginal birth is still the safer option and the one more likely to be advised to you.
It is not common for a stillborn baby to be delivered by caesarean section but there are reasons why this is recommended sometimes.
It can depend on how far along in your pregnancy you are, what the healthcare team think has caused the baby’s death, whether you have had one or more previous caesarean births, and your medical history.
Induction is safe after a previous caesarean birth. You will be monitored closely during the birth.
After a baby is stillborn
A midwife will be with you for the birth of your baby. You can see and hold your baby immediately if you wish to do so. You may prefer to wait or you may not wish to see your baby. It's entirely up to you.
If you choose to see and hold your baby, you will be allowed as much time as you need.
You and your partner may wish to spend some time alone with your baby. Many parents like to choose a name for their baby.
Your maternity hospital will usually allow other family members to see you. They can see and hold your baby also if this is your wish.
Photos and other memories
If you would like to take photos, you will be given time to do this.
Your midwife will often talk to you about other ways to preserve your baby’s memory. Sometimes imprints of your baby’s handprints and footprints can be taken. Others include a lock of hair and your baby’s hospital ID band.
These mementos are loved by some parents, but are not for everyone. Decisions about what to do after a stillbirth are very personal, and there's no right or wrong way to respond. Don’t ever feel pressured into doing something that you do not feel is right for you.
You will not get another chance to assemble these mementos. You may want these items in the future. You can ask your midwife to put these items away safely until you are ready to look at them.
Bereavement after the birth
Giving birth to a baby who has died in the womb can be very distressing for you and your partner. There is no 'right' way to deal with how you feel. Trust your instincts to do what is right for you.
If you have other children, letting them see the baby may help with the grieving process.
Bereavement support should be offered to you and your partner. All maternity hospitals have midwives who specialise in supporting bereaved parents. Your midwife will talk to you about registering your baby’s birth.
Take time to decide if you want a funeral or some way of saying goodbye to your baby.
You may wish to organise your own funeral for your baby. You can wait until you have recovered from the birth and feel strong enough to attend.
If you do choose to have a funeral, you may wish to place something in the coffin with your baby. If you have other children they may like to draw a picture to put in the coffin.
Many hospitals have remembrance services for all babies who die in pregnancy or soon after birth. These are annual events and all are welcome to attend.
Finding the cause
There are some tests and investigations that can be done to try and find out what caused your baby’s death. This can help with the grieving process and inform your future pregnancies. In most cases, following a post-mortem examination and examination of the baby and the placenta, a cause will be found.
Read more about tests to find the cause of stillbirth
Hospitals always review cases of stillbirth. Sometimes there are several types of reviews into a baby’s death. Doctors will discuss this with you at the time, and when you come back for a follow-up appointment to get the results of the investigations and what caused the stillbirth.