Information for parents whose baby has died before birth
Being told the news
Being told that your baby has died can be one of the most difficult things for a parent to hear. Many parents can initially have difficulty even believing that it is true. This is a normal reaction as it takes some time for this shocking news to sink in.
If you already knew that there were some problems with your baby, you may have been a little prepared for this news. Nevertheless, having confirmation that your baby has died is still likely to be a shock.
The most common question most parents ask is "what happens next?" This information will help you understand your options about what happens next and is provided as a back up to the information that has been given to you by the doctors and midwives caring for you. At a time such as this it is common for parents to find it difficult to remember all the information they are given.
There is no one way to respond to the news that your baby has died. Sometimes parents cry out in disbelief and some are openly upset or angry. Others will just feel confused and frightened. Most parents tell us this is a time of mixed emotions which can range between feelings of devastation to a sense of numbness. For fathers, this time can be particularly confronting as they feel helpless to protect their child and partner.
Whether to go home
Many parents initially think that the best thing to do is to have the baby as quickly as possible. Perhaps by doing this they hope to stop some of the pain of grief. For some mothers, in particular, the thought of carrying a baby that has died can be distressing. She may feel the need for the doctors to 'get the baby out.' These are all normal first reactions. However, we do know from parents who have been in your situation that rushing into a decision rarely helps. Sadly, the grief of your baby's death is likely to be part of your life for some time.
For some parents the chance to go home and take a day or two to prepare themselves and their family for the birth of the baby can help them to be more prepared. Mothers tell us that once they get over the initial shock of the thought of carrying a baby that has died, they value this time with the baby and prepare themselves to say goodbye. This extra time can be a special time for the whole family.
However, it is important that you make decisions that are best for you and your family. We encourage you to talk with your family, as well as the doctor and midwives about your choices. Ultimately, you will know what is best for you and your family and we will support you in your decision.
The birth of your baby
How and when your baby will be born is an important decision. Sometimes the timing of the birth may be influenced by a medical reason. For example the doctor may be concerned for your wellbeing if you have a medical complication. If this is the case, your doctor will discuss this with you.
Generally, there are three options for birthing your baby. Induction of labour is the most common. This is when labour is intentionally started by giving you some medication to help the cervix dilate. Your baby can then be born vaginally. Another way for your baby to be born is by caesarean section, which is a major operation. The third option is to wait until labour begins of its own accord.
It is important you are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options. The doctor and midwives will discuss these with you. If there is no medical urgency, you may like to take some time to consider all this information before a final decision is made.
Including other family members
The birth and death of a baby is a very personal and individual experience. Some couples prefer their privacy at such times. Others will want to include their extended family and friends, valuing their support and involvement. If you have other children, you may like to think how best they could be involved in grieving their brother or sister. Also, your own parents may be important people to include at this time. Staff at Mater Mothers' Hospital support a family approach to bereavement care and can offer assistance or advice in supporting family centred grief.
Finding out why your baby has died
As you start to grieve the death of your baby, it is likely that you will begin to have some questions about why this has happened. Sometimes we may not know why your baby died. If this is the case the doctor will talk to you about the advantages of having an autopsy performed. This is when a specialist doctor performs an 'operation' on your baby to attempt to find out the cause of death. We realise that this can be a foreign or distressing concept to you at this point in time. However, we also know that many parents have regretted not having an autopsy. Further discussion and information about investigations into finding the cause of your baby's death will occur after the birth.
If you are unsure of some of the information that has been given to you, please ask the staff any questions you have. It is common for grieving parents to need information repeated more than once.
How to contact the hospital
Mater Mothers' Hospital's Bereavement Support Program is available to support parents at this time. You can contact this service Monday to Friday between 8 am and 4 pm on 07 3163 3467.
The following organisations provide support for parents and families when their baby dies. You may wish to make contact with them now or in the future:
SANDS QLD INC
Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support Group
Phone: 07 3254 3422
Freecall 1800 228 655 (outside Brisbane and within Queensland).
SIDS and KIDS
SIDS and Kids Queensland
Phone: 1300 308 307
Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Last modified 19/11/2015.