Physical effects of a stillbirth

Information on how to cope with the physical effects of having a stillborn baby

Most women agree that the emotional trauma of shock and grief are far worse than the physical effects of stillbirth, but your body is recovering after the birth, and this can be very difficult to deal with. 

These are some of the common physical changes that women have after giving birth.

Your breasts and breastmilk

Breastmilk is produced when your hormones drop after having a baby. Your breasts will still produce breast milk after giving birth to your stillborn baby. This can be very emotionally distressing and feel very unfair.

Breast engorgement, sometimes referred to as ‘milk coming in’, is the process by which your breasts fill with milk in the first few days after the birth. It can make your breasts feel very large, tight, painful and tender.

Suppressing breastmilk

You can reduce the symptoms of engorgement, and gradually the amount of milk you produce, by following these steps:

  • apply ice packs (or a bag of frozen peas) covered in a light cloth or cabbage leaves to the breasts to get relief from the discomfort
  • use pain relief such as ibuprofen or paracetamol
  • express small amounts by hand, just enough to ease the pain though, otherwise you will encourage the production of more milk
  • try warm showers, which may allow the breasts to leak naturally.

Using medication to suppress milk

You may prefer to explore the possibility of using medication to suppress breastmilk instead of waiting for it to slow down and stop naturally. There are medicines called dopamine agonists, which stop your breasts producing milk (suppressants). However, you cannot take these if you had pre-eclampsia. Talk to your doctor about the side-effects of these medications.

‘I was given this medication as part of my hospitals protocol of managing stillbirth. I was very grateful to be given it early on and had no symptoms of my milk coming in which I think I would have found very distressing.’ Kathryn

Donating breast milk

There is the option of donating your milk to the UK National Milk Bank. Donated breastmilk helps other babies whose mothers are unable to provide breastmilk. When a mother is unable to provide any or enough of her own breastmilk for premature and sick babies, donor breastmilk is preferred to infant formula as it contains antibodies to fight infection. 

After-pains/stomach cramps

It’s common to have after-pains after giving birth. They can feel similar to labour contractions, cramps or strong period pains. This is your womb contracting back to its normal size. Painkillers can help with this.

Bleeding (lochia)

After the birth, you will bleed heavily through the vagina. This is called lochia and it is your body getting rid of the lining of your womb and blood from where your placenta was attached. Everyone is different, but for most it will be heavy for around 2 weeks and then will be lighter until around 6 weeks after the birth. At the start it may have some lumps in it. It changes colour from red, to pink, to brown.

Initially the bleeding will be heavy and you’ll need very absorbent sanitary pads. It’s best not to use tampons until after your 6 week postnatal check because they can cause infection.

If you find you’re losing blood in large clots, you may need to let your midwife know.


You may have some painful stitches if you had tearing or an episiotomy during the birth (cut). Bathe in clean, warm water to help you heal. Dry the area carefully afterwards.

  • Some women find it useful to have a jug of water on hand (in the toilet) so you can clean and cool the area after having a wee.
  • Don’t avoid going to the toilet. Even if it feels like they will, the stitches are very unlikely to break.
  • In the first few days, take care when sitting down and lie on your side rather than on your back.
  • Stitches usually dissolve by the time the cut or tear has healed.
  • Take painkillers according to the instructions on the pack.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your midwife or GP if you have any concerns.

Going to the toilet

It can be worrying going to the toilet after giving birth because of fear of the pain, worry about the stitches breaking and the lack of sensation, or control. Although you might want to put off having a poo in case it hurts, try not to get constipated. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals and bread.

It might give you confidence to hold a clean pad of tissues over the stitches while you do a poo. But try not to worry, it’s very unlikely that going to the toilet will affect your stitches.

Drink lots of fluids to keep your urine diluted.


Piles (haemorrhoids) are common after any birth and they tend to go after a few days. Make sure you drink lots of water and get plenty of fibre by eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. You need to avoid getting constipated and straining.

If you are worried, or very uncomfortable, talk to your midwife or GP about getting some ointment to soothe the area.

Your pelvic floor

Your pelvic floor holds your pelvic organs (bladder, uterus, bowel and vagina) in place . Its muscles give you control when you go for a wee, supporting your bladder and bowel. You might feel like you have little control of your body in the days after giving birth because your pelvic floor has weakened. If you attempt pelvic floor exercises (where you squeeze and hold the muscles like you are holding in a wee), you might find you have no sensation at all. Don’t worry it should come back. It just takes time.

Your tummy will feel baggy and you may struggle to control your bladder, especially when you cough or move suddenly. It will get better with time, especially if you regularly do pelvic floor exercises.

If, after 3 months, you’re not seeing improvements with bladder control, you may need a referral to a physiotherapist.

Read more about exercise and postural advice after a stillbirth 

Recovering from a caesarean section

If you had a c-section, you’ll need to stay in hospital for between 2 and 4 days, and you may need help at home afterwards.

You’ll feel uncomfortable and be offered painkillers. You may be prescribed daily injections to prevent blood clots (thrombosis).

Staff will encourage you to get mobile by getting out of bed and walking as soon as possible. They can offer advice on postnatal exercises to help you recover.

You might not be able to drive for up to 6 weeks.

You’ll need to look after your wound by gently cleaning it and drying it everyday. Please get in touch with your GP if you have any concerns about this, or see signs of infection.

Getting a period after a stillbirth

It is hard to say when your first normal period will happen after giving birth.

It’s likely it will be about 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth. However, because of the timing, it can be hard to know whether it is the post-birth lochia, or your first period.

Some women find their first period isn’t like their normal period. Everyone is different. You might find your first period particularly difficult to cope with. This is totally understandable.

Read more about postnatal appointments and your 6 week check.

Read more about stillbirth


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    Last reviewed on September 1st, 2017.

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 6 Feb 2020 - 19:34

      I just lost my baby boy at 36 weeks . I delivered on 1/29/20 it was my first pregnancy. I am experiencing a roller coaster of emotions and the grief seems to come in waves. I do want to have more children but I have to admit I am scared. I am trying my best to keep afloat.

    • By Gillian (not verified) on 8 Jan 2020 - 12:10

      I gave birth to a still born on the 10/10/2019. She was 2.2kg baby girl and very pretty. How I wished she was alive when coming on earth but unfortunately unforseen occurrence befall us all: Ecclesiastes 9:11,12. Grieving took a tall on me and my husband but we found comfort in this scripture:1Corinthians 15:26 that says; the last enemy, death, is to be brought to nothing. God has spoken and we felt better. It takes step by step each day to get better!

    • By Janette (not verified) on 17 Jan 2020 - 14:09

      Praying as you lean into God Gillian you will feel his presence I had my own loss 20 years ago we will be reunited one day God bless x

    • By Topsy (not verified) on 20 Dec 2019 - 07:48

      I gave birth to my identical twin girls on the 7th of Dec, 2019. They were 26 weeks. First baby was born sleeping. The second girl couldn't make beyond a few minutes. I feel so devastated!!! My emotions have been here and there. Sometimes i feel i can cope and sometimes i just break down. It all still looks like a dream. My family has been very supportive.
      I believe my girls will come back to me....

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 5 Nov 2019 - 07:08

      I gave birth to a still born baby on 22 October 2019 @28weeks being my first born baby, it's so devastating but one thing for sure I know that God is in control. And my strength comes from Him.
      Let's all stay strong in the Lord. He will always be our provider.

    • By This is cindy i... (not verified) on 11 Dec 2019 - 15:43

      What are my long term health complications will i have later on in life.

    • By Janette (not verified) on 17 Jan 2020 - 14:06

      My wee girl Jade would have been twenty this year God has kept us close to his heart all these years we have faith also that we will be reunited some day God Bless x

    • By Nic (not verified) on 22 Oct 2019 - 19:19

      My son was born sleeping on the 5th November 1999. This year it will be 20 years ago. Someone told me then that time heals. This is true, the memories never fades and I can still tell you every detail but now the pain is not there. If it wasn't for the fireworks every year I feel I would have healed faster as the date could slip by without the constant reminder from the fireworks but now and Forever he will be in my heart.

    • By Pc (not verified) on 12 Jan 2020 - 05:44

      My son was born sleeping Dec 15 2005. Concealed placenta abruption. It was devastating for me and my husband and our 6 yr old son. 14 yrs ago and it still gets to me, that's why I am here responding today. I am sorry for your loss. I have a hard time every Christmas. I feel as though I cant get into the spirit until after Dec 15. Time does heal until theres a reminder, the pain isnt as powerful but hearing songs that reminds me of a birth just brings it all back for a while, though not as intense but definatley still there.

    • By Loice (not verified) on 2 Oct 2019 - 12:59

      Lost my boy at 36 weeks.One of the reasons might be gestational diabetes tho not sure

    • By Iwona (not verified) on 25 Sep 2019 - 20:52

      I just gave birth to my daughter 2 days ago that must have died about a week earlier. They said it’s better if I don’t look at her because she’s a bit swollen.
      Most likely chromosomal problems. We are not going to do autopsy or biopsy to check. In the end, we feel that it would not matter what caused it because it might or might not happen again. We are checking if there was an infection though. Doubtful but we will check.
      My breasts started to hurt a lot just today and they are swollen, I read that I might have started to produce milk?????
      Just waiting for my doctor to call me back about this.
      I am writing this so you know that you are not alone if this happens to you. It is the most difficult situation and I go from feeling almost ok to complete despair, it’s a shock.
      But even now, I am so happy that I tried and so proud of my daughter for sticking with me for the 5 months. I believe that she had no chances of survival most likely but she tried her hardest and hope that she felt our love then and now as well.
      Time will heal us I hope.

    • By Hildah (not verified) on 11 Oct 2019 - 18:10

      Sorry for your loss but your story has made me feel a bit stronger just lost my girl on the 7-Oct-2019

    • By Mara (not verified) on 21 Sep 2019 - 19:48

      I lost my beautiful baby girl Acacia to still born at 37 weeks and 5 days. It’s been traumatic and they grieving is on and off. I just hope time will make it easier to deal with. Me my partner and daughter have decided to unite and do this together. Doctors said there was nothing I did to cause it so I feel more at peace. This situation is just sad for all involved.

    • By COLLETTE Assam (not verified) on 3 Jan 2020 - 10:36

      So sorry about ur loss .Same happened to me 4th september 2019. But till now I have not started seeing my MENSES and that was my first pregnancy . I really want to conceive again

    • By Deborah (not verified) on 14 Aug 2019 - 21:18

      I lost my beautiful girl too on the 7th of August,, she was 32 weeks,, I really I'm struggling to forget the events that took place

    • By Tshepiso (not verified) on 17 Aug 2019 - 16:55

      I lost my baby a week ago. I feel like dying. I am not coping, my partner has completely shut down. It's been a week and I don't know what to do. I feel like he blames me.

    • By Kia (not verified) on 14 Sep 2019 - 14:50

      I lost my son 8/6/2019. Its hard

    • By Sam (not verified) on 7 Jul 2019 - 15:09

      I had a still birth on May 28. He was a beautiful boy. I was 38 weeks 2 days. Still cant get my head around any of it. I just feel lost and empty all the time

    • By Nurian (not verified) on 31 Jul 2019 - 00:11

      Dear Sam, You and I had the same experience. I had my beautiful stillborn son on 30th May 2019. I was about 39weeks. It was the most devastating moment of my life. But I kept in prayer and my strong faith in God has made me strong because I know it was His will and He alone knows why it happened that way... I also believe that my perfect son is in heaven.
      My family and friends have really supported and strengthened me.
      Please avoid being alone... Stay around the people you love and those that love you... This has been so helpful to me.
      Look at the life ahead of you. You still have you... You can never replace your son, but you can move on from the loss.
      May God strengthen you... And May He bless our wombs again! Amen!

    • By Cden (not verified) on 1 Jul 2019 - 16:42

      After the still birth my breast is still having problem of Tenderness and inflammation in breast and underarm even after five weeks .i went to see doctor and they are saying it might go after 6th week. So please share your experience if it’s normal

    • By DM (not verified) on 20 Jun 2019 - 15:47

      I gave birth to stillborn on may 30th and it was really devastating. He was 25 weeks. May God comfort us

    • By Donna (not verified) on 24 Aug 2019 - 21:54

      I gave birth to my still born daughter just yesterday, 23 Aug, 2019. I was 27 weeks 2 days. Hurts alot, it was my first pregnany but I believe God knows best.

    • By Hetta (not verified) on 24 Apr 2019 - 00:56

      On the 8th I gave birth to a boy but he died soon after I was 24 weeks we are ready to try again but isit sade

    • By Mauu (not verified) on 7 Jun 2019 - 05:56

      I know how you are feeling i also gave birth to a stillb8rn on 21march 2019 and im still not coping she was 37weeks 3days

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