safe motherhood


Stillbirth and neonatal death

The possibility of losing your baby is every parent's greatest fear. After 24 weeks of pregnancy, if a baby dies before, or during, birth it's known as a stillbirth; if the baby is born alive, but dies at about the time of birth, the medical term is neonatal death. However it happens, when a birth that is eagerly looked forward to turns to such tragedy the intensity of the parents' feelings can be overwhelming. Medical staff are very sensitive to this and your carers will do their best to help you through this difficult time.

Your midwife may encourage you to see and hold your baby and to grieve for him or her as a member of your family. If you don't feel able to do this at the time, photographs can be taken, or a hand or footprint provided, which you can have later to remind you of your baby. Many parents find that having held their baby, or having a physical reminder of his or her presence, can help them grieve for their loss.

Many bereaved parents have a strong need to talk to their midwife or consultant about what happened and to try and find out why their baby died. Parents can be asked if they want a postmortem - they don't have to decide straight away, but many parents find that it may help to find out the cause of their baby's death (although postmortems are not always conclusive). Although the causes are very rarely anything that could be prevented, talking the circumstances over with health professionals will at least mean you are fully informed and have a chance to raise any questions or further fears you have.

Other parents who have been through a similar sad experience can also help support and offer you a chance to talk out your feelings with someone who really understands how you feel. Members of the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society (SANDS) have experienced the loss of a baby themselves and run a helpline, which you can contact on 0207 436 5881, Monday to Thursday between 10am and 3.30pm.