What is a stillbirth?
When a baby dies after 24 weeks of pregnancy and before or during birth, it is known as a stillbirth.
The loss of a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy is classed as a miscarriage. However, this is simply terminology for legal purposes. Many mums who have a late miscarriage also give birth to their baby and, understandably, feel that it should be called a stillbirth.
In 2016, there were 3,430 stillbirths in the UK. This means that 1 in every 225 births ended in a stillbirth. That's 9 babies every day. Our research into the causes of stillbirth is as vital as ever.
Much of the supportive information below is relevant to all parents suffering from the death of a baby in late pregnancy, however we also have support and advice on miscarriage here.
Support after a stillbirth
Stillbirth is one of the most devastating experiences any family can go through. We are here to support families who are going through this very difficult time. We have worked with women who have experienced stillbirth, their families and professionals who have supported them to develop supportive information below to help parents who have suffered a stillbirth.
Emotional support for parents
If you would like to talk to a midwife about any aspect of stillbirth or afterwards, the midwives on the Tommy's advice line have experience in talking about pregnancy loss and have had bereavement training. Phone 0800 0147 800. The line is open Monday to Friday, 9-5pm.
Emotional support for others
Family, friends and colleagues of those who have suffered a stillbirth watch helplessly, while also often dealing with their own grief. These pages below offer support.
When your baby dies, you will be given lots of information and there will be practicalities to take care of. When you’re shocked and distressed, this can be particularly difficult to manage and you might struggle to digest the information and understand what’s happening next.
A very supportive community has built up over the last few years around pregnancy loss. The page below lists a number of blogs and social accounts from people who have suffered pregnancy loss/es or preterm birth.
"When my son was stillborn, I couldn’t find anything to read about the mum’s personal experiences and what to expect... I needed something real, something I could relate to." Hannah Pontillo
All write movingly about their experiences of loss, life after loss and, in some cases, pregnancy and pregnancy/parenting after loss.
Your next pregnancy
Pregnancy following a stillbirth is a time of anxiety as well as joy. There is some advice here on the care you should get and how you can take care of yourself.
A note about Tommy's
In all too many cases when a baby is stillborn there is no obvious cause. These baby’s deaths remain ‘unexplained’, which can be very hard for grieving parents who want to know why their baby has died. There is still a lack of research into the causes of pregnancy complications and loss, and that is why Tommy’s funds research into the causes of stillbirth, miscarriage and premature birth.
Together for change
Our ongoing campaign calls for those who have been affected by baby loss to come together, to support each other and to campaign for change. Read more about it here.
Information and support on stillborn baby post-mortems
Many women who suffer a stillbirth don't notice any changes. However, there are some things that you should look for during your pregnancy.
Information and support for parents on coping with grief after having a stillborn baby.
Parents get lots of information after a stillbirth and some of it can be confusing and hard to understand. Find some commonly used medical terms related to stillbirth here.
How to support parents who have suffered a stillbirth, advice for family, friends and colleagues
How to support parents at work whose baby was stillborn
Information and support for parents on giving birth to a stillborn baby
If you lose your baby after 24 weeks, their body must be buried or cremated by law. Whether or not you hold a service before the burial or cremation is your decision.
Pregnancy after a late term loss often brings mixed emotions and can be a very anxious time.
Information about some of the ways you can reduce the risk of stillbirth in pregnancy.
If your baby was born after 24 weeks, you will need by law to register your baby’s stillbirth.
For many people, the loss of a baby leaves them feeling shocked, isolated and empty. It is difficult in this traumatic time to realise that later, you may treasure memories of your baby and items relating to this time.
Going back to work after losing a baby can be a welcome return to routine for some, and a terrifying prospect for others. Take time to work out what’s best for you.
Spending time now with your stillborn baby could help you cope with the grief later.
Information on some of the causes of stillbirth.
Seeing your son or daughter coping with their baby’s death is very difficult and painful. This page is support for grandparents coping after with the stillbirth of their grandchild.
Ways to help, support and understand your partner after a stillbirth
Information and advice on supporting children when their sibling has been stillborn
Information and advice on trying for another baby after a stillbirth
Information on how to cope with the physical effects of having a stillborn baby
Find out the maternity rights and benefits that you’re entitled to if your baby is stillborn.
- Lawn JE, Blencowe H, Waiswa P, et al (2016) Stillbirths: rates, risk factors, and acceleration towards 2030, The Lancet 2016;S0140–6736(15)00837-5. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00837–5 http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)00837-5.pdf
- MBRACE-UK (2017) Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report, https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/mbrrace-uk/reports
- RCOG (2011) Reduced fetal movements 2011, green-top guideline no. 57, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/gtg_57.pdf
- Flenady V, Wojcieszek AM, Middleton P (2016) Stillbirths: recall to action in high-income countries, Lancet 2016;387(10019):691–702, http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)01020-X.pdf
- NHS Choices [accessed 10/01/2018] Stillbirth definition, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Stillbirth/Pages/Definition.aspx
- Tikkanen M (2011) Placental abruption: epidemiology, risk factors and consequences 2011, Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 2011;90(2):140–9
- Harmon QE, Huang L, Umbach DM, et al (2015) Risk of fetal death with preeclampsia 2015, Obstetrics and Gynecology2015;125(3):628–35.
- ONS (2017) Vital statistics: population and health reference tables 2017, Office of National Statistics, London, England, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigrati...
ℹLast reviewed on August 1st, 2016. Next review date August 1st, 2019.
By Patricia (not verified) on 16 Dec 2019 - 16:04
I gave birth to my full term stillborn son in 1972. I did not know beforehand that my baby had died (the staff did). He was taken away immediately & I never saw him. He was strangled with the umbilical cord. I had no counselling & no one spoke to me about it. I am very happy that things are done differently these days as I was heartbroken & had to rely on my husband who was also grieving. I had my son Fabrice one year later by caesarean,but have never forgotten this awful experience.
By Lisa (not verified) on 3 Feb 2019 - 08:45
I had to give birth to my beautiful daughter too early, she had a condition she wouldn't survive and I had no choice! It's been 2 years and that grief is only just hitting me, I've been so strong for so long now I'm falling apart!
By Midwife @Tommys on 14 Feb 2019 - 15:33
Hi Lisa, Thank you for your comment.
We are so sorry to hear about the loss of Matilda, these past 2 years must of been so difficult for you and your family. If you feel like you need to talk to anyone then you can always call the Tommy's Midwives on 0800 0147 800 Monday to Friday 9am-5pm and we can talk through anything you would like to discuss. It may be advisable for you to speak to your GP to see if he can refer you for some bereavement counselling, if you haven't processed your feelings and it is only coming to the surface now then it is important that you get the right support through this time and the support is there if you need it. Be kind to yourself and take care, Tommy's Midwives x
By Freya Tatters (not verified) on 6 Mar 2017 - 15:59
Last year my mum had to go through horrible events of a still born and that still born was called James.
I'm only 10 and I'm the youngest and wanted to have a younger sibling.
By Midwife @Tommys on 6 Mar 2017 - 16:18
Hi Freya. I am very sorry to hear a bout the loss of your baby brother last year. That is very sad and must have been very difficult for you and your family. I hope that you are able to talk to your mum and dad about this and how it has made you feel.
Look after yourself and your family.
By Midwife @Tommys on 24 Oct 2016 - 09:07
We are so sorry to hear this happened to you. We send our love and condolences.
By Rowena (not verified) on 23 Oct 2016 - 19:45
Sept 9'2016 I was pregnant in 31 weeks and 2 days and suddenly feel that the Baby movements was decreasing and my husband drove me rush to the Hospital and when resche there it was found it that Baby was no more heartbeat.
I and my husband were schoked and Completely frustrated for what happened in our life. We Kept hugging and crying each other.really doesn't knew what to do. Terrible!!! Was dreadful for us.
Sept 7,2016The Baby born that umbilical cord wrapped tightly in his neck twice and bad to know that doctors never saw it from ultrasound.And even the last 3 times ultrasound in the hHospital.