If you lose your child after the 16th week, or your child dies during childbirth, this is officially classed as a "stillbirth". It's a tragic and often traumatic experience for parents. A mix of emotions are involved; anger, guilt, sadness, shock, mourning. In recent years, the number of stillborn babies born in the West has decreased sharply. Yet around one percent of fetuses die during pregnancy or during childbirth.
The exact cause of the death of the fetus, from the 8th week until birth, is not always known. There may have been problems with the umbilical cord or placenta. For example, the umbilical cord may knot or release the placenta from the uterine wall before the baby is born. In case of excessive blood pressure or poorly treated diabetes, the risk of stillbirth increases.
Stillbirth can also occur if the fetus has a severe hereditary or congenital abnormality. Certain infectious diseases transmitted by the mother to the fetus, such as listeriosis (this bacterium can occur in raw milk soft cheese), are sometimes responsible for maternal fetal death. Sometimes no cause for death can be found at all.
If it goes wrong
A sign indicating possible stillbirth is reduced signs of life. If you notice that the movements get less or stop, do not hesitate to call your obstetrician or doctor. They will listen to the heart of the child and, depending on the duration of pregnancy, take a scan of the heartbeat (CTG) to determine the health of the child. If the CTG shows poor child health, the gynecologist determines the further policy based on the duration of pregnancy and additional factors. Sometimes it appears that the baby has died in the womb. This will be a tragic shock A big question besides the sadness is often: why does this happen? Investigation of the cause of death usually consists of blood tests, sometimes from research into infections, placenta research and, if you allow, from obduction to see if there are indications of congenital abnormalities.
For emotional wellbeing, it is very important to say goodbye in your own way. You can name, hold and hug your child and take pictures of it. Although parents are often reluctant to see and hold their stillborn child, most who do so are glad they did. It's good that you see other children and some loved ones as well.
Depending on the duration of pregnancy, a funeral or cremation can also be included - a farewell ceremony can be very comforting. Once at home, you will be confronted with your loss; the baby room that remains empty, reactions from outsiders. And then there's your body in which the hormones circulate, flowing, your breasts preparing for the production of breast milk. For this latter you should wear a tight bra and do not drink too much.
There medicines to inhibit milk production, if necessary, you can ask your doctor about them. About six weeks after childbirth you may have a doctor's appointment. If there are results of research, they will be discussed with you. It may also be that the cause remains unclear.
Back to work
If you have a job, think carefully about the moment you want to start again. It is not uncommon to include the normal maternity and paternity leave of 16 weeks (depending on country and municipality). It's good to discuss this with your employer. In case of problems, contact your GP or hospital healthcare provider.
You may consider going back to work 'on a therapeutic basis': you can decide when and how many hours you work, depending on how you feel physically and mentally. For your partner, it may also be difficult to get back to work. Outright "stopping" work isn't healthy and can cause major problems later.
Getting pregnant again
After a stillbirth, you may feel like getting pregnant as soon as possible. Although medical attention is usually not necessary here, it may be wise to wait a little while for your emotional recovery. Do not underestimate the impact of long-term loss, sometimes physical or psychological complaints can arise. Sadness often returns around certain times, such as at the day of birth, anniversary of death, or the birth of a baby to one of your friends.