What Parents Should Know About Stillbirth

Pregnancy can be a beautiful and exciting time. Unfortunately, sometimes the outcome isn't what parents expect. Although loosing a baby is rare, it does happen, and learning what happens when you have a stillbirth can be helpful for grieving parents to learn how to better cope with their loss.

According to Baby Center, a stillbirth is defined as the birth of a baby who displays no signs of life after 20 weeks gestation, with a loss prior to 20 weeks being called a miscarriage. There are various reasons for a stillbirth to happen, and each situation is unique. The American Pregnancy Association (APA) also noted that the most common causes for stillbirths are placental issues, chromosomal abnormalities, growth restriction, and infection. Some stillbirths happen during pregnancy, before the mother goes into labor, but more often than not, stillbirths occur due to complications that arise during labor or delivery.

If a mother has a still birth, there are a few things that happen after the fact while she is still at the hospital. Depending on how labor goes — if they knew about the stillbirth prior to labor or if it was sudden and unexpected — a mother's body will need time to recover. The APA noted that women still require time to physically recover from a stillbirth, just as with any type of labor. During this time, the hospital staff try to make the grieving mother as comfortable as possible.

Baby Center noted that in most cases, parents are able to discuss beforehand what they want to happen after the baby is delivered. Some parents prefer to be alone with their baby any tests are run, while others have a more difficult time being around their baby. The aftercare will look different for every family, but in most cases parents have enough time to discuss what they want to happen before labor starts.

Eventually, the medical team will run tests on the baby, the placenta, umbilical cord, and the mother, if necessary, to try to determine the cause of the death. In some cases, mothers need to be aware of potential future risks for subsequent pregnancies, and testing can help determine what the risk will be.

Saying goodbye to the baby, the APA warned, is one of the hardest parts of the experience, but it, like the postpartum recovery, is necessary to begin to heal.

The APA noted that stillbirths are uncommon, occurring in about one in every 160 pregnancies, but that doesn't make the loss any easier to bear if it does happen to an expectant mother. Although each hospital or birth center has different methods for handling stillbirths (for example, autopsy isn't always common procedure,) their primary goal should be to make the parents as comfortable as possible as they recover from an unthinkable experience.