Stillborn Baby

A stillborn means that the fetus has died before or during the delivery after 20 weeks of the pregnancy. If the pregnancy dates are unknown, then the baby should weigh 12 ounces (350 grams) or more to be considered a stillborn. A stillbirth is one of the most tragic events that can happen during a pregnancy. It can affect the parents with severe emotions.

CAUSES

Causes and risk factors include:

  • Many times the cause is not known.

  • Previous stillborn.

  • Medical illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus, thyroid, kidney disease and congenital deformities.

  • Chromosome problems.

  • Infection, virus, bacteria and other germs.

  • Being pregnant with twins or more.

  • Being overweight (obese).

  • Smoking.

  • Taking illegal drugs.

  • Alcoholism.

  • Poor nutrition.

  • Being poor (low socioeconomic status).

  • Pregnant women 35 years old or older.

  • Pregnancy problems such as growth restriction, preeclampsia, problems with the placenta or umbilical cord.

  • There is a higher rate of stillbirths in Hispanic, African and Native Americans.

Knowing the cause and risk factors should help lower the risk of a stillborn in future pregnancies.

TREATMENT

  • When the baby dies before delivery, delivery is the same as delivering a live baby. Usually labor will begin within two weeks, but if it does not, induction of labor is advised. The mother may request induction of labor quickly because of the emotional stress of carrying a stillborn baby. Cesarean section is not done unless there is a problem during labor or delivery.

  • After the tests are done on the baby, you and your partner will be able to spend as much time as you need with your baby. This is a good time to grieve and express your emotions.

  • After delivering the baby, you may be discharged in one or two days.

  • You should get plenty of rest and sleep. Resume your activities gradually.

  • You may have a slight amount of vaginal bleeding and spotting for 3 to 4 weeks.

  • Get help if you need to. You can talk to:

  • Bereavement counselors.

  • Religious leaders.

  • Support groups.

  • Mental help professionals.

  • Genetic counselors if the cause was due to a chromosome or hereditary problem.

People grieve in many different ways. Grieving is different for everyone. Here are some things counselors recommend:

  • Do not be afraid to cry.

  • You and your partner should hold the baby.

  • Give your baby a name.

  • Talk or sing to the baby.

  • Dress the baby.

  • Take pictures of the baby.

  • Take a piece of the baby's hair.

  • Get a copy of the baby's hand and foot prints.

  • Get a birth certificate.

  • Have your baby blessed or baptized.

  • Include all family members in the grieving process.

  • If you have other children, explain to them what happened. Discuss with your counselor or pediatrician whether or not the children should see and hold the baby.

  • Have a funeral for the baby with family, friends and invited guests. Ask for help.

  • Collect and keep the baby's clothes and other items in a special chest for remembrance. Donating some items to a charity may be helpful to you and your spouse.

  • Have someone in the family be in charge of telling other family and friends about the stillborn, funeral, and other arrangements, and how they can be helpful.

Parents should know that tests can be done on themselves and the baby. An autopsy can be performed on the baby to help find the cause of death. This may be helpful in future pregnancies and may help parents with their grieving and counseling.

You and your partner's grieving may last months or a year. At some point you will decide if you should get pregnant again and the decision should be made only between you and your partner. Do so only when you both feel you are physically and emotionally ready. Most counselors recommend you should wait a few months or a year when you have finished with your grieving, and you feel it is time to get pregnant again. The chances of having another stillborn baby is very rare.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Keep your postnatal appointments. Take any necessary medications and follow your caregiver's advice.

  • If your breasts become engorged, apply warm compresses.

  • Your menstrual period will start between 6 to 8 weeks after the delivery.

  • Do not use tampons or douche.

  • Do not have sexual intercourse until your caregiver says it is okay.

  • Use some form of contraception until you decide to get pregnant again.

  • After having a stillborn baby, get counseling to help you work through and overcome the following emotions:

  • Grief.

  • Guilt.

  • Sorrow.

  • Anger.

  • Frustration.

  • Blame.

  • Depression.

  • Spousal problems.

These emotional feelings are not unusual to have, but they should be dealt with so they do not create more serious problems later.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You are having trouble sleeping.

  • You had an episiotomy and are having problems, pain, bleeding or fluid (pus) draining from the episiotomy site.

  • The episiotomy wound is opening up.

  • You are having problems with hemorrhoids.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You are passing blood clots or bleeding longer that 4 weeks.

  • You develop a fever of 102° F (38.9° C) or higher.

  • You have abnormal discharge.

  • You have abdominal pain.

  • You have pain or bleeding with urination.

  • You have chest or leg pain.

  • You have shortness of breath.

Support groups include:

  • www.MISSFoundation.org

  • www.stillnomore.org

  • www.emptycradle.prg

  • www.marchofdimes.com

Helpful reading includes:

  • Dear Cheyenne, A Journey Through Grief, by Joanne Cacciatore (a mother with a stillborn baby)

  • A Rose in Heaven, by Dawn Siegrist Waltman

  • I'll Hold You in Heaven, by Jack W. Hayford

  • Am I Still a Big Sister?, by Audrey Bernheimer Weir and Susannah Hart Thomer