Reviewed April 2014, next review April 2017
Unfortunately, around 4,000 babies are stillborn in the UK each year.
These pages will give you some information on stillbirth, symptoms, potential risk factors and known causes, treatment and care after a stillbirth, and on dealing with the emotional effects.
Stillbirth refers to the death of a baby after 24 weeks of pregnancy but before birth. A miscarriage is the loss of a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy. The medical profession describes stillbirth as either ‘intra-uterine’ or ‘intra-partum’. An intra-uterine stillbirth means that the baby has died in the womb. An intra-partum stillbirth means that the baby dies during labour.
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If it is found that your baby has died
How you find out that your baby has died can vary a lot. Some women say they simply knew and went to hospital to have it confirmed. Others weren’t aware until a routine appointment finds no heartbeat, or a scan reveals the baby has died. Others discover during the pregnancy that there is a problem that means the baby cannot survive. It may be at the birth itself that the baby dies. However you find out, it is a devastating experience.
The time immediately after finding out can be shocking and you may not even believe the news. You may ask for second opinions or to have it proved to you somehow. These are all common reactions and the health professionals caring for you should be able to help answer your questions. If you are on your own ask for someone close to come and support you. You might want your partner, a close relative or friend to be with you.
In the early hours and days after the news you may have to make quite a lot of decisions. It can seem hard and you may keep changing your mind or feel numb and not know what you want. It can be tough, but some of these decisions will help you in the days and even years to come. Ask your midwife and the person supporting you to help you. And don’t be afraid to say if you’ve changed your mind.
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If haven't had your baby yet it can be an intensely difficult time to decide and think about giving birth. You will usually give birth naturally unless there are reasons that you need a caesarean section. You may need to be induced to start the labour off and all the same decisions need to be made about pain relief and what you would like to happen.
The birth of a baby that has died can still be made very personal and you will remember it forever, so do ask for what you want. Is there a particular midwife you are close to who may be able to come and deliver your baby? Is there special music or lighting that you want? The midwife who is caring for you should be able to discuss all your wishes during the labour.
There are questions which you will need to think about like whether you would like to see and hold the baby straight away after you give birth or whether you’d like the midwife to clean and wrap the baby in a towel first or if you’d like to see the baby at a later stage.
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Experiences of stillbirth
Trudy was pregnant with her first child when she missed a scan whilst overseas visiting family. During her next scan at 28 weeks, she received the devastating news that her baby had died. She says that "it felt as if the rug had been pulled from under my feet".
Trudy was forced to decide whether to deliver her baby by caesarean or to be induced. She chose to be induced and have a normal delivery. On the 15th November, Trudy went into labour. After 36 hours in labour, there was still no progress but Trudy persisted and finally, on the 18th November, Trudy's first child was born. A little girl.
This horrific episode left Trudy severely shaken. She needed counseling and anti-depressants for over a year to fight the ensuing depression. She says "I never thought in 2000 that I would survive" - today, she credits her husband, Lester, for helping her through this heartbreak.
Sadly three years later, tragedy struck again when Trudy miscarried her second child.
Trudy and Lester's have since been blessed with two beautiful children, a little girl and a baby boy, but they will never forget the two children they lost.
Stephanie had been having a relatively problem-free first pregnancy, despite being pregnant with twins. However, a week before Jennifer and Jack were delivered, Stephanie developed very itchy hands and feet. When she visitied a doctor he seemed unconcerned. The next day, Stephanie felt unnerved - she could sense that there something wrong with her babies. A midwife confirmed that there were still two heartbeats and Stephanie went away with her worries alleviated.
A week later, Stephanie went to see her usual GP. She diagnosed Stephanie with Obstetric Cholestasis. Stephanie was rushed to the hospital, where she was scanned by a midwife. Tragically, Stephanie's earlier instincts had been right - the news was terrible - Jack had died.
Jennifer and Jack were immediately delivered by emergency caesarean.
Following the loss of Jack, Stephanie felt nobody knew what to say to her. People with good intentions said upsetting things. She sought psychotherapy, and after meeting with a few people, she found someone who was able to treat her depression and panic attacks.
Two years later, Stephanie fell pregnant again. During this pregnancy there were early warning signs for pre-eclampsia. Medical staff kept a close eye on Stephanie, and luckily, she didn't developed the condition. A healthy baby girl was born weighing 6lbs 7oz in 2003. And since then, there has been another addition to the family: Laura was born in 2004 weighing 7lbs 3oz.
A lot of well-meaning people have asked Stephanie if, when she looks at Jennifer, she also sees Jack, but Stephanie doesn't see her oldest daughter as half of the whole. When Stephanie has worked out what to say, and Jennifer is old enough to understand that Jack's tragic death is nobody's fault, Stephanie will let her know about her stillborn twin brother.
See a video about how our work affects women who have lost babies during pregnancy.
In memory of Rose and all the other angel babies from Tommy's on Vimeo.
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Also in this section
Office for National Statistics, Characteristics of birth 1, England and Wales, Office for National Statistics. London ONS, 2013. Available from: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/characteristics-of-birth-1--england-and-wales/2012/index.html (accessed 14 April 2014)
Stillbirth (Definition) Act 1992, Definition of stillborn child, Section 1(1), London The Stationery Office, 1992
Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J, Mayes M. Mayes’ midwifery, Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier; 2012: page 960