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What happens after a stillbirth?

6-minute read

Experiencing stillbirth is deeply traumatic and distressing for parents. If your baby was stillborn, you will need to make some difficult and challenging decisions.

It’s important to know you will have support and information available to help you through this painful time as you try to make sense of what has happened.

Will I be able to see my baby?

If you choose to, you can spend time with your baby after the birth. Studies have shown that, for many parents, this can help you through your grief and the difficult times ahead.

If you feel scared or upset about seeing your baby, your healthcare team can help you. They can answer your questions before you decide what you want to do.

You don’t have to decide straight away whether to see your baby. And you can change your mind. If you decide not to see your baby, you may ask for photos to be taken so that you can see them in the future when you are ready.

You will be able to hold, bathe, dress and take photos and videos of your baby if you want to. If you haven't named your baby, it can help to do this.

Your midwife will be able to help you if you would like to spend a few days with your baby or take them home for a while.

You may want to invite family and close friends to see you and the baby, which can make it easier for them to understand. But for some families this is a very private time — you don’t have to speak to others or have visitors if you don’t want to.

Honouring your baby

It's up to you which keepsakes or mementos of your baby you would like to collect during this time. Your healthcare provider in hospital may be able to help you with things like:

  • a lock of hair
  • your baby's cot name card
  • the tape measure used to measure your baby
  • their identification bracelet
  • your baby's handprints and footprints

You may also choose to:

  • write a letter to your baby
  • write notes about your baby
  • keep a diary
  • have a ceremony, such as a blessing, naming service or other special ritual
  • create a memory box

It's OK for you to leave the memory box at the hospital or give it to someone else to look after until you are ready to look at it again.

What other decisions will I need to make?

Your baby's funeral, commemorative service or other special ritual

There is no rush to make decisions about a funeral or other memorial options. Your hospital can help you with information.

When you are ready, the funeral director you choose will move your baby to a funeral home. Your baby will be treated with respect and dignity.

Finding out why your baby died

Your healthcare team may recommend some tests to see if they can find out why your baby died. These tests may involve:

  • blood tests from the mother
  • examining the placenta
  • conducting an autopsy

An autopsy is a thorough examination of your baby.

You don't need to say yes to an autopsy or other tests. But it may be helpful for you to know what happened.

Autopsies are always performed respectfully. You can still hold and spend time with your baby after an autopsy. There are some less invasive autopsy approaches that may be more acceptable to some parents.

You may feel overwhelmed about these tests. Your healthcare team will be able to answer any questions you have. You should have time to think about your choices.

There will be a review of the care you received and any tests you have, to help understand the cause of your baby’s death. The findings will be discussed with you. You should be told when to expect any test results and the review findings.

It's important to know that these tests will not always explain why your baby died. This can be very hard for parents to hear.

Other arrangements

You will receive information and support at the hospital about registering your baby’s birth and death. You can also ask about possible financial support from Centrelink.

Grieving for your baby

There are many different ways people grieve following the loss of their baby. There's no 'right' way to do this. It's personal, and your partner's grief process may be different from yours.

Unfortunately, many bereaved parents report feeling isolated in their grief, and that the magnitude of their loss is not well understood.

Support is very important for parents and families who have a stillborn baby. There is an increased risk of parents having mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

You will receive bereavement support at the hospital as well as information about future support. Parent support groups are helpful for many parents. Your doctor may recommend a referral for support with a counsellor, social worker or psychologist with specialist experience.

If, at any stage, your feelings are too overwhelming and you sense that you're not coping, it's important to get professional help.

Your body and future pregnancy

Your body will go through normal post-birth changes in the days and weeks following your birth. You may experience breast changes and bleeding from your vagina. This is a very difficult time physically and emotionally as your body was expecting to care for and feed your baby. It’s important to give your body time to heal.

It's also important to let your doctor know if you experience heavy bleeding that doesn't stop, a fever, or breast swelling and warmth.

After a time, you may think about another pregnancy. This is normal and doesn't mean you have 'moved on' from your baby. The decision to get pregnant can be difficult. How you approach it, and when to make the decision, is up to you.

If you feel it's time to consider having another baby, check with your doctor about whether your body is ready for pregnancy again.

Resources and support

If you have experienced stillbirth, you can get support from SANDS Australia by calling 1300 308 307, 24 hours a day. They also have information on parent support groups and information online, including factsheets.

Still Aware is an Australian stillbirth awareness organisation, supplying education and support to parents and health professionals.

Stillbirth Foundation Australia also has information and support for families and health professionals.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2022


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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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