Experiencing a stillbirth is deeply traumatic and distressing for parents. If your baby was stillborn, you may also 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 just happened.
What happens during a stillbirth?
Once it's confirmed that your baby has died you will need to give birth to your stillborn baby, but you will receive support from a number of people at the hospital, including your birth team.
You will be able to make decisions about the birth such as who you would like to have in the room with you, plus any special objects or music you would like to have there.
You will also be able to have pain relief, as usual, if you would like this. You should not feel afraid to ask for what you want during this time — your feelings are very important and your care team is there to support you.
Am I able to see my baby?
Yes, you can spend precious time with your baby. Studies have shown that this can help you through your grieving process in the difficult times ahead. If you feel scared or upset about seeing your baby, your healthcare team can help you and answer your questions before you decide what to do.
You will probably find that any fear of seeing the baby will disappear once you actually see them. Some parents are surprised by how much love they feel.
You will be able to hold, bathe, dress and take photos and videos of your baby if you want to, and invite people to come in and visit. If you haven't named your baby yet, 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.
What about other reminders?
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 any special features of your baby
- keep a diary
- have a ceremony, such as a blessing
- 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
When you are ready, the funeral director you choose will move your baby to a funeral home. Your hospital can help you with information about organising the funeral. You don't need to rush and can visit your baby right up to the time of the funeral.
Your baby will be treated with respect and dignity, just like any other person who has died.
Finding out how your baby died
Your healthcare team may recommend some tests to see if they can understand the reason for your stillbirth. These tests may involve:
- blood tests from the mother
- examining the placenta
- conducting an autopsy
An autopsy is a thorough examination of your baby, both externally and internally. You don't need to say yes to this; however, it may be comforting for you to know what happened. The hospital will make sure you can hold and spend time with your baby after the autopsy.
It's important to know that even after these tests, there may be no way to know why your baby died. This can be very hard for parents to hear.
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 and there's no 'right' way to do this. It's personal for each individual and your partner's grief process may be different from yours. You will receive bereavement support at the hospital as well as information about future support.
If, at any stage, your feelings are too overwhelming and you sense that you're not coping, it's important to get professional help.
In the days and weeks following the birth, your body will begin to get back to normal again. In the short term, you may experience sore breasts and bleeding from your vagina. It's 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 start thinking about another pregnancy. This is normal and doesn't mean you have 'moved on' from your baby. This decision can be difficult and how you approach it, and when to make the decision, is personal to you.
If you feel it's time to consider having another baby, check with your doctor to ensure your body is ready for pregnancy again.
Still Aware is an Australian stillbirth awareness organisation, providing education and support to parents and health professionals.
You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse about any questions or concerns you have.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: July 2020