What to do after losing a baby
The arrangements when a pregnancy is lost due to miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion do differ. There are legal, medical and emotional/psychological variations to be understood.
After a miscarriage when a medical assessment is done a mother can choose to have expectant management, if she decides to let nature take its course with the remaining foetal tissue.
Medications are also available, such as Mifegyne and/or Cytotec, to soften the cervix and cause contractions to expel the rest of the foetal tissue. Surgery is also an option to remove the foetal tissue through evacuation of retained products of conception (ERPC or ERPOC). If infection occurs, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. After treatment, the recovery period is approximately ten days.
After miscarriage, feelings of guilt and loss can also follow. Part of the mother's route back to recovery and wellbeing involves her emotional and mental health too. Seeking professional advice in coping with grief may be necessary even though family and friends may offer their support.
A mother may or may not be psychologically prepared for a stillbirth even though she has knowledge that stillbirth can occur in pregnancy. The stillbirth itself can raise some issues that the mother may not be expecting, such as:
- What it means to hold the deceased baby
- Having an autopsy as information about the death
- Registering the birth for legal purposes
- Options for funeral or cremation
Holding the deceased baby
After stillbirth, some mothers still want to hold their deceased baby. Similarly, some mothers may opt to take photos of their deceased baby or to keep hair from the baby's head in memory. Some research suggests that holding the deceased baby can be therapeutic to the mother in coping with the grief of loss, but other study findings show a link to clinical depression.
Not choosing to hold the deceased baby can also lead to feelings of guilt later. Stillbirths can be so unexpected and parents may not know what to do. Holding the deceased baby is a choice and either way, feelings of loss and grief will follow as part of the human experience. The most important part is to seek help with grief in accepting and overcoming the loss.
Autopsy to find out cause of death
After stillbirth, a post mortem or autopsy can be done to determine the cause of death. In some cases, a cause cannot be found, but in others the contributing factor is evident. Autopsies may also include a chromosomal analysis to see if there was any chromosomal abnormality. Due to grief, some mothers may not request an autopsy but in other cases autopsies are automatically done. The benefit of having an autopsy is that the analysis may assist the mother in future pregnancy planning.
Legal registration of the birth
In the case of stillbirths, UK law requires that the stillborn baby is registered with the Registrar of Births within 42 days of being born dead, and a stillbirth certificate is issued to the mother.
Options for funeral or cremation
Having a funeral or cremation for the deceased baby can also help not only the mother express and cope with grief, but also share the grieving process with her partner, family and friends. Choosing a funeral or cremation may be based on religious or cultural grounds. Medical professionals can explain hospital policies about this and where help can be gained with the costs for the funeral or cremation.
After abortion, bleeding from the vagina may continue for about two weeks or to your next period. The use of tampons is not recommended due to exposure to infection. Similarly, sex should be avoided until there is no further bleeding, but taking the contraceptive pill can continue.
In the event of experiencing clotting, heavy bleeding, abdominal swelling and pain, dark smelly vaginal discharge, and/or a high temperature, medical attention should be sought immediately. After an abortion, women may feel relief or suppress their feelings. Emotions may include a feeling of loss, sadness and guilt. Counselling may be needed or talking with loved ones may help.
Grieving when losing a baby
Mothers who have either lost their babies by choice, such as abortion, or by accident, such as stillbirth or miscarriage, grieve for their lost babies in different ways. At first, they may be so engaged in the medical and in some cases, legal, after effects of it all that they do not even recognise that they are grieving. People may not expect them to grieve for an “unborn” child, and feelings of shame or self-blame may start to surface.
Some people may not even recognise that fathers grieve for the loss of their baby too and that partners need to be supportive of one another during the experience. Grief can be so overwhelming to both that the signs are easily missed and replaced with blame.
Understanding that grief is part of the process of losing a baby and that there are recognisable stages to grief, can help a mother cope with the flood of feelings and trauma. Neglecting these feelings can contribute to mental health issues and even physical illness at a later stage.
Stages of grief
There is no set order or timescale, but grieving may be felt through:
- guilt and anger
- mourning, sadness and pining where you feel lack of interest and motivation for life
- acceptance and letting go where the pain and sadness start to fade
Grief is a normal human experience, but for some people can affect their normal living routines and feelings about living life. Sleep patterns can become disturbed, mental outlook may change where life appears not worth living with thoughts of suicide. Some people feel heavily isolated and depressed. Severe changes in emotion and wellbeing can lead not only to suicide but also to addictive behaviours.
Losing a Baby:
- Losing a Baby or Pregnancy Loss
- How do I know if I am at risk of losing a baby?
- Losing a baby through miscarriage
- Losing a baby through stillbirth
- Losing a baby through abortion
- Types of abortion
- Should I choose medical or surgical abortion?
- Abortions through abdominal trauma and miscarriage
- Risks of abortion including first trimester abortions
- What to do after losing a baby
- Support for grieving when losing a baby
- Trying for pregnancy again
- Pregnancy & Birth Guide
- Signs of Pregnancy
- Symptoms you Shouldn’t Ignore
- A Pregnant Mother’s Developing Body
- Pregnancy calendar
- The Role of the Expectant Father
- What you should and shouldn’t do during Pregnancy
- Prenatal Care
- Prenatal Methods of Testing
- Exercise during Pregnancy
- Pregnancy - Expecting Twins or More
- Pregnancy Predicaments
- Sleeping during Pregnancy
- Having Another baby
- Having a baby over 35
- Losing a baby
- Myths about Pregnancy
- Plus Size Pregnancy
- Piercing and Pregnancy
- Tanning and Pregnancy
- Tattoos and Pregnancy
- Pregnancy FAQ
- Pregnancy & Birth Guide
- Guide to Getting Pregnant
- Guide to Pregnancy
- Guide to Giving Birth
- Guide to Pregnancy Tests
- Mother, Baby & Beyond Guide
- Guide to Pain Relief in Labour
- Guide to pregnancy scans
- Pregnancy calendar guide
- Baby calendar guide
- Child development calendar guide
- Guide to miscarriage
- Guide to breastfeeding
- Guide to sleeping for mother & baby
- Guide to birth defects
- Guide to Post Natal depression