After the birth
Many women have told us that the emotional trauma of shock and grief are far worse than the physical effects of stillbirth, but others found that the physical issues were as difficult to cope with. Try to remember that your body is recovering after the birth, which can be very difficult to deal with.
Try to remember that your hormone levels rapidly change after the birth, and postnatal mood swings and tears are normal. These hormonal changes might make your grief even harder to cope with in the early weeks and months.
You will also have to cope with the physical effects of giving birth. You will bleed heavily for the first few days, and this will continue for a few weeks. You may have painful stitches or after-pains as the uterus contracts back to its normal size. Your breasts will produce milk and this can lead to painful engorgement. Talk to your midwife about how to manage your milk coming in as you may be able to take some medication to reduce the amount of milk.
“For me one of the most awful things was my milk coming in. I was sadly unable to take any medication to stop it, so I was told to compress my breasts with tighter tops to try and stem the supply.”
Read more about coping with the physical effects of a stillbirth.
Physical reactions to grief
You may have physical reactions to your grief. Heart palpitations, shaking, chest pains, diarrhoea, butterflies in your stomach and sickness are all common. You may be more prone to viral infections, such as colds. Or you may feel physically exhausted.
Sleep may be difficult for a while. You might have vivid dreams and nightmares. Or you may suffer from insomnia.
“I suffered from PTSD and nightmares for several months after my stillbirth. At night I would lie in bed reliving what had happened. I learnt to write my feelings down which acted as a release.”
Get in touch with your GP if you feel you need extra support with the physical effects of grieving.
It is important to try to look after yourself after the birth. You may not feel like eating or drinking but you need to try to keep physically strong to cope with the emotional trauma.
Some people have told us they found it difficult to leave the house, but if you feel able to do so, parents often report that once they went out they felt that being outdoors in the fresh air helped.
Sharing your feelings
Talking to close and trusted family members or friends about your feelings and your experience can bring comfort.
Most parents also felt that talking to other people who had experienced a stillbirth was helpful and reassured them that their feelings were normal. It can make you feel less alone.
Sands, a support charity, can put you in touch with other parents who have had stillborn babies and will be happy to listen and talk. Child Bereavement UK also have helpful resources to support parents whose babies have died.
You may find that crying and talking about your baby are good ways of releasing feelings. You may want to tell your story over and over again. This is normal and you should follow this instinctive urge to talk as it helps you come to terms with what has happened. Don’t be afraid to mention the name of your baby who has died.
Other parents, however, might find it hard to express their feelings or talk about their baby.
“Sometimes you just don’t know where to start, or find it too hard or horrifically sad.”
It might be helpful to write down what happened and how you feel each day. You may want to draw or paint, write a poem, keep a diary, create a web page, set up a blog or make a scrapbook. Some parents find reading about how other parents felt is helpful, there is an archive of parent’s stories available on Stillbirth Stories. There is also an online archive of babies that have been stillborn available on the Still Born Project website.
We also have The Baby Loss Series on our website which some parents find helpful. The animations, with voices from the Stillbirth Stories audio archive of testimonies from bereaved parents, break the silence on all aspects of baby loss. Through this series, we want to raise awareness of the prevalence of baby loss, and support families affected so they feel less alone.
Getting support to help cope with the grief
A bereavement support officer or bereavement midwife may be able to help you with paperwork and funeral planning.
You might also be able to access bereavement counselling through your GP. Charities, such as Cruse Bereavement Care, can offer support such as talking to a bereavement volunteer. Or you could explore private counselling and look at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website to find a registered therapist near you.
Counselling can give you a safe space to talk about your grief. The act of talking to someone outside your life, who has specialist training, can be such a release and help you make sense of what has happened. Sometimes people can get stuck in their grief because they don’t feel able to express it, with friends and family, or even feel it because it is so painful. Talking can really help and a therapist may also be able to help you manage intrusive thoughts or anxieties and finding coping mechanisms for dealing with life, and ways to help you grieve your baby.
There is support out there, but it will differ depending on where you live. Sometimes you need to explore all your options to find the best one for you.
Knowing the difference between postnatal depression and grief
Some parents (including dads and partners) experience symptoms of postnatal depression after a stillbirth. You might also show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder after the experience you’ve been through. Talk to your GP if you are worried about your feelings and reactions.
The main symptoms of postnatal depression are very similar to the symptoms of grief, so it is not easy to tell them apart. If you have had a previous mental health issue, you are more likely to suffer from postnatal depression so please talk to someone close to you and be aware of this. Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- loss of interest in life, no longer enjoying things that used to give pleasure
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time.
Other symptoms can include:
- disturbed sleep, such as having trouble sleeping during the night and then being sleepy during the day
- difficulties with concentration and making decisions
- low self-confidence
- poor appetite or an increase in appetite (‘comfort eating’)
- feeling very agitated or, alternatively, very apathetic (you can’t be bothered)
- feelings of guilt and self-blame
- thinking about suicide and self-harming.
If, after about 6 months, you are still struggling to cope with everyday life, consider getting some professional help, such as seeing a counsellor, which you can discuss with your GP.
Looking into the future
We're aware you might be reading this page many years after your baby died. You may not have been able to access the support or information you needed at the time, or perhaps it is only now that you are ready to. A baby dying, particularly in the womb, can create complex reactions in parents. It might be that your grief wasn’t acknowledged by other people at the time. We are well aware that, even now, infant death is a frightening and taboo subject for many people. It was even more so in the past.
We are here for you. Please call our midwives who have bereavement training and can listen, on 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm). Some people struggle with their grief decades after their baby’s death. This is known as complicated grief. Talking about it now can be a great relief and help you to heal.
We know how important it is, for many parents, to remember their baby’s special milestones and anniversaries now and far into the future. You may find our information about making memories helpful.