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 distressful 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). 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. Tel: 020 838 33559 www.ukamb.org

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 two weeks and then will be lighter until around six 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 six 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.

Stitches

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 though. 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

Piles (haemorrhoids) are common after any birth and they tend to go after a few days. Make sure you get plenty of fibre by drinking lots of water and eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. 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 three months, you’re not seeing improvements with bladder control, you may need a referral to a physiotherapist.

For exercise and postural advice after a stillbirth try this page 

Recovering from a caesarean section

If your baby was born with a c-section, you’ll need to stay in hospital for between two and four 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 six 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 four to six 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 six week check.

Read more about stillbirth

Sources

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Last reviewed on September 1st, 2017.

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Comments

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 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 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 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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