Losing a baby


The term stillbirth refers to a baby born after 24 or more weeks completed gestation and which did not, at any time, breathe or show signs of life.*

Sudden Infant Death (SID)

Data collected in 1999 for England and Wales by the Office For National Statistics found that there were 279 Sudden Infant Deaths (SID**), a decrease of 2% on the previous year. However, the SID rate remained the same as in 1998 at 0.45 per 1,000 live births.

During the period 1995-1999, SID was more prevalent amongst boys than girls. During that time, 60% of all SIDs occurred amongst boys, whilst boys accounted for 51% of all live births. 88% of all SIDs occurred in the postnatal period (i.e. death at 28 days and over).

There were 31% more SID in the three months of January to March than in July to September.

SID rate was highest where children were born to mothers aged under 20 at time of birth.

SID rate was highest amongst babies born into a marriage with a father of social class V, compared to babies of fathers in other social classes.

SID rate was higher for babies weighing 1.500-1.999 grams, which then decreased with increasing birthweight.

SID rate was lowest for babies born within marriage.

The SID rate for babies born within a marriage where it was the mother's first birth was 64% lower than the overall SID rate.


Neonatal Death - the statistics

Picture of an angel

Neonatal death is the term for babies that die within four weeks of birth. In fact, most neonatal deaths happen within one week of the birth - in the UK this represents about 1 in 100 births.

Why did it happen?

There is usually no single reason for stillbirth or neonatal death, but perhaps several factors are involved. The most common reasons are low birth-weight and congenital abnormalities. Sometimes the placenta fails towards the end of the pregnancy, or even during labour and sometimes the stress of birth is too great for the baby. Rarely, something goes tragically wrong during labour, resulting in the death of the baby. After the death of a baby, it is quite natural for parents to ask whether they "did anything wrong", whether they could have done something differently/better etc. However, the reality is that it is extremely unlikely that anything you did or didn't do would have avoided this outcome. Nonetheless, it is important to discuss all possibilities with your doctor and midwife.

Post mortem and autopsy

It is worth realising that you will most likely need to give your consent for an autopsy or post mortem to be carried out on your baby as well as possibly a chromosome analysis. Although extremely upsetting, the information gleaned from this could be extremely useful, particularly when contemplating subsequent pregnancies. An autopsy might also help to answer some of your questions concerning your baby's death.

Click here to read one mother's moving experience of neonatal death.


Grieving for your baby

It can be very helpful in the grieving process to be able to see and hold your baby after he/she has been born. It is easier to mourn for somebody that you can visualise and to be denied that, can make parents fell guilt and regret for many years. Many stillborn babies look quite perfect and very beautiful and even a profoundly handicapped baby will not look as bad in reality as in your imagination.

You are perfectly allowed to see and hold your baby, take as many photographs as you want and to share in these experiences with other family members and friends. Hospitals will also take photos of your baby too, though these might not be as aesthetically pleasing as you would wish. However, should you not have taken any yourself, it is worth remembering that the hospital will still have theirs should you wish to see copies later.

Most hospital chaplains will conduct a serve of blessing for you baby if you wish and this can be with your baby there too, if you would like that.

Unfortunately, it is a requirement of law that you will have to register your baby's birth and death, but these certificates can become a valuable part of your memories.

It is an upsetting fact that your body will, of course, not know the difference between a live birth and a stillbirth. This means that you will experience the blood loss (lochia), tiredness and - perhaps the most upsetting - production of breast milk. With the latter, doctors can give you medication that will dry up your milk, although be warned that these are very strong drugs. The milk will dry up naturally by itself in time. Additionally, there are methods that you can use to relieve the engorgement and it would be wise to ask your doctor or midwife about this. You might also need pain killers to ease the pain, or you might need to express a little milk to relieve the discomfort.


Support groups

The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society (SANDS) has many branches nationwide. Contacts from SANDS who have lost babies themselves will sometimes visit bereaved parents in hospital, or there may be self-help groups where you can make contact with other parents who have been in a similar situation.


*Note: on 1/10/92 the legal definition of the term "stillbirth" was changed from a baby born dead after 28 or more weeks completed gestation, to one born dead after 24 or more weeks completed gestation.