A stillborn baby is a baby that tragically dies in utero, prior to or during birth, after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy. The baby is born ‘still’, showing no signs of life. If a baby dies before 24 completed weeks and weighs less than 500g, it is known as a late miscarriage in Ireland. Stillbirth represents a significant and complex bereavement and may have profound and devastating effects on the parents, their other children and their wider family. Nothing can prepare someone for finding out their baby will die before birth or has died. Common emotions are to feel shock, fear, anger, numbness, helplessness, worry, disbelief, guilt, isolation to name just a few.
How common are stillbirths?
Stillbirth is much more common than many people think. In Ireland, around 360 stillbirths are registered every year and one in every 200 births ends in a stillbirth. Stillbirth is 10 times more common than infant cot death. Most stillbirths happen before labour starts and are detected with an ultrasound scan.
What are the causes of stillbirth?
Unfortunately there are numerous causes and reasons for the stillbirth of a baby, to name just a few – a physical abnormality in the baby, bleeding (haemorrhage) before or during labour, problems with the placenta, a problem with the umbilical cord, Pre-eclampsia, abnormalities of blood clotting in the mother, obstetric cholestasis, infection in the mother that also affects the baby, etc. Some babies are diagnosed with physical abnormalities during pregnancy that tragically means they will not survive the full pregnancy. Unfortunately many deaths are unexplained that is, the babies appear to be perfectly healthy and no cause for the death can be found after all the tests are done. Unexplained stillbirths make up anywhere from 20 to 50% of all stillbirths, but sometimes a death called unexplained is actually one that has not been investigated fully. No matter what the cause is though your preparations and plans to be bringing your new baby home from the hospital and start your life together are shattered and the emotional trauma to you and all those involved is immeasurable.
Birth and afterwards
If a baby has died before labour starts, labour is nearly always induced (started by using medication). This is because labour is safer for the mother than having a caesarean section. In the cases of emergencies a caesarean section may be required. Maternity hospitals will have a bereavement team to help the mother, her partner and family deal with their tragic loss of their child and to support and guide them with decisions and options available to them prior to leaving the hospital. There are few chances to create a lifetime of memories, a chance to say hello before they say goodbye, and parents need to make decisions that are best for them.
A stillbirth of a baby is an extremely traumatic event for everyone involved and it will have a profound emotional impact, not only on a woman but also on her partner, friends and family. The nature of the birth can also add to the emotional trauma of a stillbirth. Due to the hormonal changes in their bodies women may also suffer from postpartum blues or postnatal depression as well as having to deal with the physical effects of giving birth and developing milk in their breasts. Some women may even suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from this traumatic event. Sometimes, the emotional impact is felt immediately after finding out that the baby has died or after giving birth, whereas in other cases it can take several weeks to emerge.
The most common emotions that are felt after having a stillborn baby are grief and bereavement. They can cause physical and emotional symptoms.
Physical symptoms of grief and bereavement include:
- fatigue (tiredness)
- loss of appetite
- difficulties concentrating
- sleeping problems
Emotional symptoms of grief and bereavement include:
- shock and numbness
- anger (it can be directed to oneself or to other people)
- an overwhelming sense of sadness
Losing a baby is one of the most traumatic events that can happen to a person. Nothing can prepare you for finding out that your child has died. Parents do not expect to be burying their child especially before their little life has begun. Very often people don’t know how to support you or they may say the wrong thing which only adds to your distress.
We are all unique and our emotions as well as our coping skills are unique to each person as well. We all grieve differently and for different lengths of time, never compare yourself to someone else or judge someone else like your partner on how they are grieving, there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Some people find it comforting to talk about their feelings while others find the subject too painful to discuss. Studies have shown it takes longer to deal with grief and may end up causing other mental health issues if you do not talk about it or deal with your grief which is why Nurture Health is here to help you.
You are not alone and it really is okay to talk about it
If you are worried that you, your partner or your family are having problems coping with grief or your grief is overwhelming, you may need help and counselling. Nurture Health is here to help.
Please click here to see how to contact us.