Coping with stillbirth
Having a stillborn baby is an experience that is unimaginably painful for parents. Grief for your baby can take a number of forms. The hospital or your GP can refer you for counselling, which many parents find a great source of help. The hospital may also help you put together a special memory pack. In addition, some parents decide to make a book of dedication or memorial garden, or hold a remembrance service. Further sources of support are given below.
The mother is always asked to give her permission for a post-mortem to be carried out on her stillborn baby. This can be a very difficult decision with some people wanting to try to find out why their baby died and others wanting their baby to be left in peace. It cannot be done without your consent so think carefully beforehand what you would prefer.
Registering a stillbirth and having a funeral is a legal requirement for all stillborn babies (even if the parents choose not to attend). Hospitals will have specialist bereavement services which will advise, assist and support you in making decisions during this time. Registering the birth will give you an opportunity to acknowledge your child's existence. It is also important for statistical records. Stillbirths should normally be registered at the hospital or at the local register office within 42 days, and not more than three months after the event.
It can be very difficult to know how best to support and show sympathy with a friend who has suffered a stillbirth, especially if you are pregnant or have a baby yourself. The main things to bear in mind are:
- Don't avoid contact - bereaved parents can get very isolated.
- Do acknowledge their baby's death, by card, email or text.
- Use the baby's name if one was given.
- Listen if a parent wants to talk.
It’s best to take your cues from the parents. Some want to see other people - others can't bear to be with pregnant women or new babies. NCT's Shared Experiences support line can be a useful source of support, putting anyone hwo has had a chalenging experience of pregnancy or birth in touch with someone who has had a similar experience to listent to their concerns and share their stories.
There is no evidence about the best time to try to conceive another baby after stillbirth, and you may find health professionals, family and friends offer conflicting advice. Ultimately the decision is up to you and your partner. You may, however, like to talk things through with your GP or obstetrician before trying again.
Being pregnant again may, understandably, be a very anxious time and you may find it helpful to talk to someone about your fears (see Further information). You should also tell medical staff about any concerns you have about your pregnancy so that they can run checks and offer reassurance.
Many hospitals and most GPs can refer parents for counselling following stillbirth.
The national charity Sands (Stillbirth & Neonatal Death Charity) runs a helpline, provides information and funds research into the causes of stillbirth. Call the helpline on 020 7436 5881 9.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday or email the confidential email helpline: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our own support line offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
Our Shared Experiences support line can also be a useful source of support. The support line can put anyone who has had a challenging experience of pregnancy, birth or early parenthood, in touch with someone who has had had a similar experience to listen to their concerns and share their stories. Call on 0300 330 0774, 9am – 3pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, or leave a message outside these hours.