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Coping with stillbirth

Stillbirth is the term given to a baby who dies before birth and who is older than 20 weeks gestation or weighs more than 400 grams.

Losing a baby to stillbirth can be a devastating experience. Each parent's grief journey is unique and finding the support you need is important.

Read more about coping with grief and loss.

Spending time with your baby

Many parents find that having the chance to spend time with their baby is important. Creating memories can be a helpful part of the grieving process.

The idea of seeing and holding your baby may seem confronting or frightening at first, but your health care provider can help you make this a very positive experience. If you are anxious or not sure about seeing your baby, they can support you and answer your questions before you decide.

If you made the decision not to see your baby after the birth, and then change your mind, you can still ask to see your baby. This can happen either at the hospital, if you have not yet gone home, or before the funeral.

Hospital and personal mementos

Your health care provider in hospital will arrange for special mementos of your baby for you to keep. This may include the tape measure used to measure your baby, a lock of hair, your baby's cot name card, identification bracelet and footprints and handprints.

If you don't want to see these mementos while you are in the hospital, you may like to take them home, or give them to another family member or friend. You might find you are ready to look at them at a later time.

You may also choose to keep memories of your baby in other ways, like taking photographs and videos, creating a memory box or having a baptism, christening or other ceremony. Your health care provider can assist you to do many of these things and can direct you to resources and organisations that will provide further assistance and ideas.

Taking your baby home

To help you decide whether to take your baby home, your health care provider can give you more information about preserving your baby's body, the process for releasing your baby from hospital and legal requirements for birth and death registration and burial or cremation.

What will happen with your baby's body

Your health care provider may suggest that your baby has an autopsy.

A hospital autopsy is a detailed physical and surgical examination of a body after death. An autopsy may provide you with information about why your baby died.

Only some hospitals in Queensland have the facilities to do autopsies. Your baby may be transferred to a different hospital for the autopsy and then returned.

You can read more in our guide to understanding hospital autopsy examinations for stillborn babies (PDF, 433 kB).

If an autopsy is not being performed on your baby's body, the hospital will discharge your baby.

In both cases, the funeral director will arrange travel for your baby either to the funeral home or to your home. The hospital staff will help you complete the paperwork.

In Queensland, it is a legal requirement to arrange a burial or cremation for a stillborn baby.

What will happen with your breast milk

Most mother's milk supply will gradually decrease when they hold back (suppress) lactation by limiting the amount of milk expressed, wearing a firm bra, using cold packs and medication for pain and inflammation if required. Your health care providers will give you information and support for reducing your milk production and preventing engorgement (painful, overfull breasts), blocked ducts and mastitis.

Support services

Sands
24/7 phone and email support to parents and families who experience miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal and infant death.
Phone 07 3254 3422 (Queensland office) or 13 000 SANDS (13 000 72637) or email

Australian Breastfeeding Association
Counselling and breastfeeding information.
Phone 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 2 686)

Pregnancy Loss Australia
National support program for bereaved families who suffer the loss of a baby from miscarriage, stillbirth, termination for foetal abnormality and neonatal loss.

Heartfelt
Volunteer organization offering professional photographic memories to families, free of charge.
Phone 1800 583 768

SIDS and KIDS
Bereavement support and counselling to families who have experienced stillbirth or the sudden and unexpected death of a child.
Phone 1300 308 307 (24 hours)

Centrelink (Family Assistance Office)
Financial assistance, including maternity allowances and bereavement payments.
Phone 13 61 50

Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated
24 October 2017
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