Stillbirth or an incident in which a fetus has died either in the uterus (after 24 weeks of pregnancy) or during delivery, is sometimes described as a baby being born dead . It is estimated that close to ten stillbirths occur each day in the United Kingdom, or approximately 3,500 stillbirths each year.
Causes of Stillbirths
In well over half of all stillbirths, the cause of the death will never be known. Post-mortems may be carried out on stillborn babies, but even these investigations may not be able to yield any further clues. Though statistics do reflect that stillbirths are more common in mothers over the age of 35, and mothers who have pre-existing medical conditions, these are by no means necessarily contributing causes of stillbirths. Some proven causes of stillbirths include:
- Genetic or physical malformations in the baby.
- Premature separation of the placenta.
- Premature births.
- Rhesus incompatability of the mother and baby s bloods.
- Infections (such as rubella).
- Trauma during the birth (such as lack of oxygen).
Stillbirths are emotional experiences. Immediately following such a birth many parents find it helpful to view their stillborn babies and to have a chance to say both hello and goodbye. Hospital staff members are generally very respectful of stillbirths, and should be more than willing to allow parents time with their baby. The baby s name and measurements can be recorded, and parents are often able to hold their baby, read or sing to them for a short while, and even take a lock of their baby s hair. Some parents may request investigations into the cause of the stillbirth, and these requests may be honoured if possible. Finding out the cause of death in order to achieve a sense of closure can be helpful, but it may be that no particular cause of death can be found.
Coping with Grief Following a Stillbirth
The grief experienced due to a stillbirth will likely be similar to the bereavement faced following the death of any loved one. This bereavement may leave parents and other relatives and friends feeling sad, angry, guilty, frustrated and more. Crying, changes in eating, sleeping and/or socialising patterns, feeling angry, a loss of memory, and a lack of concentration may all be experienced during the grief following a stillbirth. Not everyone will experience their grief in the same manner, however, so it should not be expected that everyone affected will grieve in the same way. Organising a funeral or memorial service may be something that the bereaved are interested in, or it may seem too overwhelming to contemplate. Hospital social workers and religious professionals will likely be able to help parents with these decisions, and professional funeral directors are available to help with this organisation as required.
Further Information and Support
Medical professionals, including hospital staff and local GPs, will be able to offer further information and support on stillbirths. SANDS (www.uk-sands.org), the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society, is also a source of information and support for individuals affected by stillbirth or the death of a baby shortly after his or her birth. Local SANDS groups are available for support close to home, and the experiences of those involved with SANDS, as well as the organisation s published literature, may prove invaluable to those affected by stillbirths.