What is a stillbirth?
A stillbirth occurs when a baby who is born without any signs of life at or after 24 weeks. The baby may have already died during the pregnancy, or during the labour and birth. Stillbirths are rare and occur in just over 1 in 200 births.
At a glance
- There are lots of support groups to to help you and your partner during this time
- Take each day as it comes and deal with your loss at your own pace
- Don't be afraid to talk through what has happened
What causes stillbirth?
There are a number of reasons why a stillbirth may occur but unfortunately it’s not always possible for a doctor to tell in every case. Factors that may lead to stillbirth include:
- Premature birth
- Placental complications - the placenta that supplies the blood and vital nourishment to the baby, doesn’t function properly. This is the most common reason for a baby to be stillborn and about half of all still births are linked to complications with the placenta.
- Pre-eclampsia - This condition will reduce the amount of blood flow that reaches the baby and affects around 5% of pregnancies, but not all result in miscarriage or still birth
- Pre-existing congenital condition – A defect that means the baby’s organs, hear or brain have not developed correctly
- Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) - a condition affecting the liver function which can be the cause of itchy hands and feet, and other areas of the body during pregnancy.
- A problem during birth – Risk of stillborn during birth is very low, but occasionally a baby may have trouble during the birth and could encounter shoulder dystocia whereby their shoulders get stuck leaving the birth canal, severely restricting oxygen as their umbilical cord becomes squashed
Overcoming the grief of a stillbirth
If your baby is stillborn, or you have suffered the devastation of a late miscarriage, you might feel like you will never get over your loss
Sadly, 17 babies are stillborn or die during or after birth in the UK every day. For parents going through this tragedy, no words or hand-holding can ever be enough to heal the pain.
If you lose your baby, your emotions will be all over the place, and your grief will not be something you can quantify, or even try to work through. How you feel and how you cope with your loss will be totally unique to you, and could change on a day to day basis.
Your doctors and midwives will give you time with your baby if that is what you want after their birth, and can help you organise mementoes, such as photos, or hand and foot prints for you to take home, if you wish to do this.
There are organisations who can help you and your partner during this time, too. SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) can offer telephone support on 020 7436 5881 as well as group meetings and one to one sessions. Your GP or midwives may also be able to recommend local support services or counsellors for you.
Although you will probably never get over your baby's death, you will eventually accept what has happened, and the rawness will ease. Until you get to that point, take each day as it comes, and deal with your hurt, loss (and probably even anger) how you need to, and at your own pace. There will be triggers which will make some days so much worse than others – your baby's due date perhaps, or the anniversary of when you discovered you were pregnant or what would have been your baby's first birthday.
Some people might find it hard to talk to you about what has happened, but you must set the agenda – if you feel you need and want to talk about your baby, and to show people photos of them, and talk through what happened, then you must do so. And always remember, there is no time scale – only you will know when you are ready to move on from the pain and hurt to gradual acceptance of what has happened.