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Stillbirth is one of the most devastating of losses, affecting over 24,000 families each year. It is estimated 70 babies are stillborn a day in the United States. Stillbirth touches families of all races, religion and socio-economic status. For many parents stillbirth is a loss that hits unexpectedly. In fact, up to half of all stillbirths occur in pregnancies that had seemed problem-free.
With any loss, grief can come in many different ways. The initial shock and numbness will eventually fade to other very intense emotions. The grieving process is different for everyone, with the one common thread being pain. Allowing yourself and others to experience this in individual ways can be vital to eventual healing.
WHAT IS A STILLBIRTH?
Stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks (NJ) or 16 weeks (PA) of pregnancy. Most stillbirths happen before a woman goes into labor, but a small number happen during labor and birth. The causes of stillbirth vary from family to family and often times go medically unexplained.
SYMPTOMS & CAUSES
The most common symptom of stillbirth is when you stop feeling your baby moving and kicking. Others include cramps, pain or vaginal bleeding . Call your health care provider right away or go to the emergency room if you have any of these conditions. Your provider will perform an ultrasound to confirm your baby’s condition. Common causes of stillbirth include:
As you are trying to cope with the heartbreaking news, you will also have to face an uncomfortable dilemma. If your baby has died before labor begins you will probably be given the choice of what type of birth you would prefer; this is not an easy decision to make. Giving birth naturally may give you a little more time to work through the shock and begin the grieving process.
Generally, it is medically safe for the mother to continue carrying her baby until labor begins which is normally about two weeks after the baby has died. This lapse in time can have an affect on the baby’s appearance at delivery and it is best to be prepared for this.
Some women prefer to be induced as soon as possible because it is emotionally difficult for some women to think of carrying their deceased baby in the womb. If labor has not started after two weeks, induction would become necessary to avoid dangerous blood clotting. A cesaren is usually only recommended, if complications arise during labor and delivery.
PHYSICAL RECOVERY AFTER STILLBIRTH
After you give birth to a stillborn baby, your body needs time to heal as it would in any birthing situation. Your doctor will probably recommend taking it easy, to give your body time to heal. A few days after you get home from the hospital, your breasts may fill with milk. The milk will normally disperse within a few days, but your breasts may feel sore and tender for awhile.
This experience can be upsetting because it is reminder of your loss. Try taking a warm bath to ease the discomfort. You may continue to bleed off and on for a few weeks. If you continue to bleed beyond three weeks, have a fever, or cramping, it is important to contact your healthcare provider.
After the tests are completed, you will usually have the choice to spend time alone with your baby. You can find comfort in looking at, touching, and talking to your baby. Most parents find it helpful to make memories of this precious time that will last a lifetime. It is possible to bond with a baby despite being born still. Here are a few ways you can make memories with your baby:
ADDITIONAL SUPPORT, RECOMMENDED READING & WEBSITES
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Kristen Samuelson, SBD, Founder & Director