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I Had a Stillbirth: What Should I Expect

In the UK, a baby who dies after 24 weeks of gestation is classed as stillborn.
1 out of every 200 babies (around 3000 babies) in England & Wales is stillborn each year. About 70% of stillbirths are unexplained.

Medical:

  •  A stillborn foetus needs to be delivered. Usually the baby will be delivered vaginally, so as to avoid scarring the uterus with a caesarian delivery, which would put future births at risk.
  • You will be given a date to come into the hospital for induction; if possible, your waters will be broken & you will be put on an oxytocin drip so as to speed up labour. An epidural for pain relief may also be offered.
  • Make sure that someone supportive accompanies you or meets you in hospital for the delivery. You may find it helpful to contact Help Me Lenni , online or by calling 0797 468 0323, 24/7, to speak to someone who has been through the same experience, can meet you in hospital (London area only), take professional-grade photographs of your baby (if desired), and help guide you through the bewildering arrangements of the first 24 hours of loss (and beyond).
  • Some parents find that spending time holding their baby helps them to say goodbye to him/her¹. Having a photograph of your baby can also be comforting, and/or midwives can take hand & foot prints of your baby².
  • For more suggestions of ways to mourn and remember your baby, please see the section on Grief & Mourning.
  • After a stillbirth, the uterus needs to contract back to its regular size. These contractions can be very painful, and could continue for up to a couple of weeks. Painkillers such as ibuprofen & paracetamol should control the pain, but if it is very acute, contact your GP, health visitor or team of midwives for advice on pain relief.
  • It is likely that milk production will begin after a stillbirth. Breasts may be painful, or ooze milk when touched. Medication is available to dry up milk production if it should be very problematic, but it can have side effects which should be discussed with your midwife, doctor, or health visitor.
  • Without medication, milk production should still dry up within about five days; to speed this process, do not pump any milk or squeeze the breasts by hand to ‘drain off’ the milk. Try to avoid stimulating/touching the breasts in any way.
  • The hormonal changes that follow any birth also follow a stillbirth. This can cause mood swings, and the hormonal ‘baby blues’ that occur 3-5 days after birth can exacerbate your feelings of grief & loss. If you are at all worried, talk to your midwife/GP.
  • Hormonal changes following a stillbirth can also cause physical changes, such as weight gain or loss, fatigue or cramps. If you are worried about any physical changes, make sure to talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor.
  • It is not common for a coroner to order an autopsy or post-mortem on stillborn babies. If the hospital suggests an autopsy, it is not obligatory and can be refused.

 

Religious:

  • In Jewish Law, there is no distinction between a miscarriage and stillbirth; any foetus over forty days old³ is classed as a nefel (lit. ‘fallen’), and must be disposed of respectfully.
  • A stillborn baby should be buried in a Jewish cemetery, out of respect for the dead. In the United Synagogue’s burial societies, stillborn babies are buried in their own grave. Adas Yisrael and Federation burial societies will only bury a baby separately if he/she is stillborn at over 37 weeks.
  • Call your local rabbi and/or your local burial society, who will liaise with the chevra kadisha (the Jewish organisation in charge of preparing bodies and organising burial). For phone numbers, click here.
  • Autopsies (also known as a post-mortem), are usually forbidden under Jewish law. However, it is rare for a coroner to order an autopsy on a stillborn. The hospital may suggest an autopsy, which would be non-obligatory and can be refused. If the tests are to find out why your baby passed away in order prevent your losing a baby in the future, the tests are permitted under Jewish law. If it is in order to compile statistics or keep record of the causes of stillbirth (which will not directly help the parents), Jewish law forbids it.
  • The chevra kadisha will carry out the same compassionate tahara (washing and purifying) process for a stillborn baby as for any other individual.
  • A baby boy is given a form of brit milah (circumcision) by the chevra kadisha, so that he can be buried as a full member of the Nation of Israel, despite being lost from it so early.
  • A stillborn baby – boy or girl – should be named; if the parents do not wish to name the baby, the chevra kadisha will do so before burial. 
  • A stillborn baby does not require any of the rituals of burial & mourning that accompany other bereavements. None of the liturgy of the burial service is recited; neither a rabbi nor a minyan of ten men need to be present. Kaddish is not said for him, and his close relatives do not observe any form of mourning (for more, please see Grief & Mourning). Family are not required to attend the burial, and often do not, but if it would be helpful to you, please tell your chevra kadisha.
  • You should also ask the chevra kadisha to note the location of the baby’s grave so that you can visit it in the future. Many cemeteries now have a special children’s section; this can be saddening, but some find it comforting to reflect that their baby is not alone.

 

Official: 

  • Throughout the UK, the law requires stillbirths to be registered. In England & Wales, this must be done within 42 days. In Scotland, it must be done within 21 days. It is not necessary to register a stillbirth before burial. A stillbirth is not registered as a death, & no death certificate is issued.
  • Stillbirth registration can often be done at the hospital; otherwise, you need to go to a register office. To register a stillbirth, you will need the medical certificate issued by the doctor or midwife.
  • For a direct.gov guide to registering a stillbirth, & a tool to locate your nearest register office, click here.

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¹Recent research indicates that, while for some parents it is therapeutic to hold their baby, others find it deepens their trauma and grief. SANDS, the charity for stillbirth and neonatal death, will be publishing new guidelines on this topic shortly. Some rabbis discourage parents from holding their stillborn baby. Dayan Ehrentreu permits it if it will help the parents. A couple should consider whether holding their baby will help them mourn, or provoke more trauma and grief.

²Jewish law teaches that a dead person is holy, and should not be photographed. However, if it would help you to come to terms with your loss and would ease the mourning process, it is permitted.

 ³The forty days are counted from the estimated date of conception (eg. most recent mikvah visit), not from the beginning of the last period.

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One Response

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  1. dan says

    Dear Amanda,
    This looks like a really valuable website that will, i hope reach the people that desperately need it. Please can you post a link to http://www.helpmelenni.com for those people that might need immediate help and with your permission, i will add this site to my links, thanks
    Dan



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