Going through a stillbirth is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a parent and requires a lot of personal care to recover from. But how?
If you’ve recently experienced a stillbirth, you’re likely going through a very challenging time. Your physical and mental fortitude will be tested in the coming weeks and months, but you will make it through this.
A multitude of causes can contribute to stillbirths, from congenital abnormalities to complications during birth. Whatever the reason, you will likely require some time to come to terms with what’s happened.
In this article, we’re going to give you some advice on recovering both physically and mentally after a stillbirth. But before we do that, we’re going to briefly discuss what a stillbirth is, its causes, and its warning signs. We hope this will help you to overcome this troubling time.
What is a Stillbirth?
A stillbirth is when a baby passes away anywhere between 20 weeks into the pregnancy and the due date. The baby can either die during the pregnancy or during the birth.
Miscarriages are different from stillbirths because they occur during the first 20 weeks of gestation. Stillbirths happen in around 1 in every 200 births in England.
What Causes Stillbirth?
The actual root causes of stillbirth are unknown, but there are a number of factors that contribute to it, including:
- Congenital abnormalities: conditions that affect either the structure of the baby’s body or its ability to function whilst in the uterus.
- Premature birth: where the baby is too undeveloped to survive.
- Foetal growth restriction: where the baby doesn’t grow to the size it’s expected to.
- Mother’s medical conditions: such as diabetes, renal disease, heart disease or pre-eclampsia.
- Birth complications
- Umbilical cord/placenta issues
- Late maternal age
- Smoking, drinking or taking drugs throughout pregnancy
- Trauma to the mother’s abdomen
Stillbirth Symptoms and Warning Signs
If you’re pregnant and are worried about stillbirth, here’s a quick list of symptoms and warning signs. If you experience any of these, call a doctor or the hospital immediately:
- Your baby has stopped moving, is moving less or is moving differently than usual
- There’s a strong pain or cramping in your abdomen or back
- You feel dizzy, your vision changes, or you have severe/long-lasting headaches
- Your face, feet or hands swell up or you have painful swelling in your legs
- You have serious or unending nausea/vomiting that upsets your eating or drinking
- You develop chills or a fever
How to Recover Physically After a Stillbirth
Now that we have an idea of what a stillbirth is, we’re going to give you some advice on recovering physically. The experience of giving birth to a baby in this way can have a huge physical impact on your body. In the first few days and weeks you might suffer from nausea, heart palpitations, diarrhoea and chest pains.
On top of the grief and strong emotions you’re likely to experience after a stillbirth, you’ll probably feel physically exhausted as well. You may even feel bruised and battered, especially if you had to undergo a c-section, episiotomy or a tear that needed stitches.
To recover from these physical difficulties, pay close attention to the following steps:
1. Make sure you have follow-up checks
About six to eight weeks after the stillbirth, you should have a follow-up health check with your GP or hospital consultant. When you leave the hospital, they should tell you whether you need to see your GP or if they’ll perform this check-up themselves.
If you haven’t heard from anyone after six weeks, make an appointment with your GP. The consultant will check to make sure you’re healing well and give you the opportunity to ask any burning questions.
Don’t be afraid to bring up anything that’s on your mind or any physical issues you’re having. The doctor will be able to advise you on what you need to know.
2. Relax and recuperate
The emotional toll of going through a stillbirth can make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night. Try to get sleep whenever you can by using the following relaxation technique:
- Sit or lie down, close your eyes and take in a deep breath.
- As you breathe out, relax any muscles where you’re holding tension so that they feel soft and loose.
- Repeat this until you feel completely calm, relaxed and ready to drift off.
If you choose to do this lying down, make sure you’re comfortable by lying on your side, placing cushions or pillows under your belly and between your knees.
3. Eat to keep your strength up
With all the emotions you’re feeling right now, you might feel like you can’t eat anything. However, to fully recover physically and mentally you need to make sure you eat well.
It doesn’t matter so much what you eat in the first days after your stillbirth, as long as you’re eating something. You can focus on nutrition and building a healthy diet once your appetite starts to come back.
On top of that, you need to make sure you’re hydrated. Drinking lots of water will help protect you against blood clots, which you’re more vulnerable to after giving birth. It will also help you keep your energy levels up.
4. Do some gentle exercise
If you haven’t been specifically instructed to avoid physical activity, you should start doing some gentle exercise. This will make you feel better both physically and mentally and might even help you sleep at night, especially if you tire yourself out.
You could start with a daily walk, aiming to go a bit further every day. Remember, if you don’t want to bump into any friends or relatives, you can choose to do it at a quiet time of day. You can also begin exercising your pelvic floor and lower tummy muscles.
Only move on to more strenuous activity once you’ve had your postnatal check, and speak to your doctor first if you had a c-section.
How to Recover Mentally After a Stillbirth
Recovering physically is one thing, but getting your mind back on track after a stillbirth is a whole other ballpark. The following advice is hopefully a good starting point for moving on from this devastating time in your life¦
1. Take Time to Grieve
Losing a baby is an enormous shock to the system. Some women are sure they can hear their baby crying and some think they can still feel their baby kicking inside them.
In the first few months after the loss, most parents are surprised at how much and how long they grieve for. Grieving is a huge part of the process as there is no healing without a certain amount of pain; all you can do is accept the pain as part of your life.
Friends and acquaintances will want to help you, but they often expect you to get back to ‘normal’ before you’re ready. Make sure to grieve in your own time and really come to terms with what has happened as you start to move on with your life.
2. Create memories
Some parents might want to try and forget that this trauma ever happened, but it’s much healthier to confront the subject and accept it.
Creating memories of your baby can really help, for example by seeing and holding your baby, having a photograph taken, and giving the baby a name. You can also keep a lock of hair, the baby’s shawl, or take hand and footprints as a reminder of what you had and what you’ve lost.
This might sound like the opposite of what you want to do, but these little things can help you remember your baby as a person and, in time, come to terms with your loss.
3. Say goodbye
Having a funeral and saying goodbye to your baby is an important part of coming to terms with your loss. The hospital might even offer to arrange a funeral, burial or cremation either free of charge or for a small fee. If this isn’t possible you can arrange your own funeral through the hospital chaplain, or contact someone in:
- Your own religious community
- Humanist UK
- The Miscarriage Association
These organisations will help you arrange a funeral, and if you really can’t face it, you don’t have to attend.
4. Share your feelings
Throughout this whole process, it’s important not to suffer in silence. Express your feelings to close friends and family members and allow them to comfort you.
Some parents also find it useful to talk to other couples who have been through a stillbirth and discuss their feelings with them. This helps reassure them that their feelings are normal and that they’re not alone.
Talking about your baby and telling your story over and over again are cathartic ways of getting your head around your stillbirth.
If you’re finding it hard to know what to say, or it’s too sad for you to discuss openly with someone, it might help to write down what happened and log how you feel each day. You could start a diary, write a poem, create a blog; whatever outlet you need to deal with your grief.
Will I Ever Get Over the Loss of my Baby?
In this post we’ve given you some advice on how to get over the physical and mental turmoil of losing a child to stillbirth.
Hopefully the advice we’ve given here helps you recover and come to terms with the passing of your baby. The road ahead will be difficult, but as long as you try your best to look after yourself and come to terms with the stillbirth, you will make it through.
Thank you for reading this post and best of luck with your recovery.