What Is Loss?
Loss is the involuntary separation from something we have possessed and perhaps even treasured, or someone we love and care about.
Everyone experiences a loss at some point in their lives – whether or not it is major or minor. Loss is universal.
Loss involves emotional pain. Significant losses produce emotional upheaval. Loss requires change and uncertainty and adjustments to situations that are new, unchosen and uncertain.
There is no right or wrong way to feel after you experience a loss. Minor losses, such as the loss of an opportunity, may bring feelings of frustration, disappointment, or anger. Major losses can lead to similar feelings, overwhelming feelings, sadness, pain, or numbness.
You do not have to be “strong” after a loss to protect others around you. Expressing emotion is how the body and mind process and relieve the pressure of intense or overwhelming emotions. Crying or expressing other emotions does not make you less of a person. It is also not uncommon for people to feel numb. People who don’t cry may still be feeling the effects of a loss. Everyone expresses their pain differently.
No one can tell you how you should feel about something. Anyone who tries to tell you that how you are feeling is incorrect is wrong.
Losing your baby is ridiculously hard and devastating. There is so much lost opportunity and pain and heartbreak.
Why Did My Baby Die?
Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question – it varies in almost every case. Sometimes, the doctor’s don’t even know why a baby dies, which may be the hardest of all types of baby loss to process.
Baby loss is more common than most thing: as many as 10 to 15 percent of confirmed pregnancies are lost. The true percentage of pregnancy losses might even be higher as many take place (such as an early-term miscarriage) before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. Most losses occur very early on — before eight weeks. Pregnancy that ends before 20 weeks is called miscarriage. Miscarriage usually happens because of genetic problems in the fetus. Sometimes, problems with the uterus or cervix might play a role in miscarriage. Health problems, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, might also be a factor.
After 20 weeks, losing a pregnancy is called stillbirth. Stillbirth is much less common. Some reasons stillbirth occur include problems with placenta, genetic problems in the fetus, poor fetal growth, and infections. Almost half of the time, the reason for stillbirth is not known.
What Are The Kinds of Baby Loss?
There are a number of ways that baby loss can occur. The most common are defined below:
Miscarriage is defined as the spontaneous loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy. (Pregnancy losses after the 20th week are called preterm deliveries.)
Stillbirth is defined as fetal death after 20 weeks of pregnancy. These tragic deaths occur in about 1 in 160 pregnancies.
Neonatal Death is defined as when a baby dies within the first 28 days of life. In the United States in 2006, about 19,000 babies died in their first month.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected, sudden death of a child under age 1 in which an autopsy does not show an explainable cause of death.
Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood (SUDC) is the sudden and unexpected death of a child over the age of 12 months, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation is conducted.
Accidental Death is heartbreaking for many reasons. Whether a car accident, a fall or some other tragic accident, these losses are hard to deal with.
What If My Baby Dies Before Birth?
If your baby dies before birth, your doctor may have some suggestions for how to proceed. These options may differ based upon the gestational age of the baby. For example, women who lose their baby before week 20 of pregnancy have what is called a “miscarriage” and may require a D & C to remove the baby. If you are farther along than that, your doctor may suggest the following;
The prenatal death of a baby is one of the cruelest things a person can face, and while it is often confirmed by ultrasound examination, unfortunately women still must give birth to her child. If your baby dies before birth, your doctor will discuss the options of waiting for labor (depending upon how far along you are) or inducing labor with prostaglandin gel, a hormone drip or other options. The plan for the birth, including methods of pain relief and your choice of support persons, will also be discussed. Your doctor may be able to describe the expected size and appearance of your baby which can help people prepare for the birth. You may want to arrange for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep to come to take beautiful photos of you and your child. This is a free service and should be used if wanted. You may not want the pictures initially, but some people do find having the photos does help with the grieving process.
If your baby dies before, during or soon after birth, he or she can stay with you for you to hold, love, and dress if this is what you would like to do. You may not feel that you want to do this at first, but you usually will have some time to change your mind if you want to.
You will need to name your baby. Later on it will help when you can remember your baby by his or her name. Some parents may choose to bless or baptize their baby. The hospital will take photos for you and help you to arrange a funeral. Most hospitals will have social workers who can help.
Your doctor will probably suggest that an autopsy (be done to work out why your baby died. Afterwards, your doctor will talk to you about the results.
Preparing For After Birth:
After a stillbirth or neonatal death, you will still need to recover from the birth.
- You will lose blood through your vagina (like a heavy menstrual period) for 6+ weeks
- Your breasts will still produce milk, which can be uncomfortable. Pain relief medication such as paracetamol, a well fitting bra and cold packs may help. After a few days, your breasts will become less full, but you may still have some milk in your breasts for a long time. There may be some other treatments available to help. Talk with your obstetrician, doctor or midwife.
If you are well, you can go home from hospital soon after the birth. The hospital will usually arrange for someone to visit you in the days that follow the loss. Your doctor will organize a check-up for you within a few weeks.
Am I The Only One In This Situation?
NO! Not at ALL! You are, unfortunately, very much not alone.
Ten to twenty-five (10-25) percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
One in one hundred and sixty (1/160) pregnancies will end in stillbirth.
Six out of every 100 babies born in the US will die in the first month of life. (29th highest mortality rate in the world)
These numbers are shocking, but they serve to show you that you are certainly not alone. There are many MANY others who know how you feel.
Why Do I Feel So Sad All The Time?
Grieving is hard. The most important thing to remember is that you have to GO THROUGH the grief instead of GOING AROUND the grief. You need to encounter and experience all the stages before true healing can begin.
It’s OK to feel sad. You lost your child, your hopes and dreams. Sadness is normal. But if after a few months, you’re unable to function in daily life without crying all the time, seeing a doctor is probably a good idea. Depression and anxiety, often lumped together as PTSD, is a common diagnosis for grieving parents. Luckily, there are ways to treat you so you can continue being productive and vibrant.
What Does “Normal” Feel Like After My Baby Dies?
Aah, the million dollar question. Likely, your world will never be normal again. Whatever normal is.
You’ll begin to seek your “new normal” which will be some form of your former self and the development of a new self.
It will take a while before you start feeling yourself slip into a new routine. Whether you were pregnant and dreaming of a glowing pregnancy and new baby and lost the baby at 10 weeks or 20 weeks or you had to deliver a stillborn baby, your life changes. If your child is 3 days old or 2 years old, your life changes.
You are tasked with learning to live in your old world with your new view of life. That view is likely one that includes fear, anger, sadness, mistrust of others, guilt, and loss of relationships.
How Do I Cope With Losing My Baby?
After the loss, you might be stunned or shocked. You might be asking, “Why me?” You might feel guilty that you did or didn’t do something to cause your pregnancy to end. You might feel cheated and angry. Or you might feel extremely sad as you come to terms with the baby that will never be. These emotions are all normal reactions to loss. With time, you will be able to accept the loss and move on. You will never forget your baby. But you will be able to put this chapter behind you and look forward to life ahead. To help get you through this difficult time, try some of these ideas:
- Turn to loved ones and friends for support. Share your feelings and ask for help when you need it.
- Talk to your partner about your loss. Keep in mind that men and women cope with loss in different ways.
- Take care of yourself. Eating healthy foods, keeping active, and getting enough sleep will help restore energy and well-being.
- Join a support group. A support group might help you to feel less alone.
- Do something in remembrance of your baby.
- Seek help from a grief counselor, especially if your grief doesn’t ease with time.
The death of a baby is always a tragedy. It will be painful for both the parents and for other family and friends.
The loss of your pregnancy at any stage can have a big impact on you and your partner. One day you are pregnant and planning your future life with your child, and then within a short time, your pregnancy ends, and your dreams and plans are gone.
The feelings can be very intense:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Not wanting to be alone
- Not wanting to see anyone
- Wanting to talk.
It is important to remember that they will reduce with time. It is also important to remember that your own experience is unique and you have the right to recover in your own way and in your own time.
You will need recuperation time, especially to recover emotionally. Try to reduce challenges as much as possible and allow yourself time to be with people with whom you are comfortable. Give yourself as much time as you need to recover.
Whatever your feelings, allow yourself time to grieve, to cry, and to talk about the emotions you feel. Do not expect too much of yourself.
- It can be a big help to find someone you can talk to who will listen and understand.
- You may benefit from contacting a baby loss support group and talking to other parents who have had a similar experience.
Your partner will also experience a wide range of feelings and may be unsure how to comfort and help you. His feelings about the loss are different from yours. You may each grieve in different ways and it is important to talk to each other and to be aware of each other’s feelings.
The doctors and midwives will support you emotionally by giving you and your family information, answering your questions and listening to your concerns and feelings. Most hospitals also have social workers who you may want to talk to
Recovery from a loss like this can take a very long time, and some women still feel sadness at special times each year for many years.
How Do I Take Care Of Myself After Losing a Baby?
Your body needs time to recover after pregnancy. You may need more time depending on how far along you are when your pregnancy ends. Here’s what you can do to take care of yourself:
- Eat healthy food, like fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and pastas, and low-fat chicken and meats. Stay away from junk food and too many sweets as much as you can.
- Do something active every day, even if it’s just a walk.
- Try to stick to a sleep schedule. Get up and go to bed at your usual times.
- Don’t smoke and stay away from secondhand and third-hand smoke.
- Tell your provider if you have intense feelings of sadness that last more than 2 weeks that prevent you from leading your normal life. If so, you may need treatment for depression. Treatment can help you feel better. If you’re thinking about suicide or death, call 911.
You need time to recover emotionally, too. Certain things, like hearing names you were thinking of for your baby or seeing the baby’s nursery at home, may be painful reminders of your loss. Your body’s physical recovery also may remind you of your baby, like if your breast milk comes in after a stillbirth. A counselor, social worker or support group can help you learn how to deal with these situations and the feelings they create.
What Do I Say To Someone Who Has Lost A Baby?
If you found this page because you have a friend or family member who has lost a child, thank you for caring. The fact that you want to know what to say to him or her shows how much you care. Below is a post that will give you some insight into what you should and shouldn’t say.
The Band Back Together resource page, How to Help Someone Who Has Lost a Child, provides additional insights and ways to help a loved one cope with the loss.
Ways To Memorialize Your Baby:
You can do special things to remember your baby, even if didn’t have a chance to see, touch or hold him. Remember your baby in ways that are special to you. You may want to:
- Collect things that remind you of your baby, like ultrasound pictures, footprints, a lock of hair, a hospital bracelet, photos, clothes, blankets, or toys. Put them in a special box or scrapbook. Keepsakes like these can help you remember your baby.
- Have a service for your baby, like a memorial service or a funeral. A service can give you a chance to say goodbye to your baby and share your grief with family and friends. Your hospital may have a service each year to remember babies who have died.
- Write your thoughts and feelings in a journal, or write letters or poems to your baby. Tell your baby how you feel and how much you miss her. Or paint a picture for her.
- Light a candle or say a prayer in honor of your baby on holidays or special days, like his birthday or the day he died. Do something on your own or bring family and friends together to remember your baby. Read books and poems or listen to music that you like and find comforting.
- Plant a tree or a small garden in honor of your baby.
- Have a piece of jewelry made with your baby’s initials or birthstone.
- Donate to or volunteer for a charity in your baby’s name, or give something to a child in need who’s about the same age as your baby would be.
- Dedicate a project to your baby, like raising money to build a swing set in a park
Conceiving After A Loss:
You’ll know when you’re ready, is probably the best advice you can get – maybe a year, maybe a few months. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to heal emotionally. Once you and your partner are emotionally ready to try again, confirm with your doctor that you are in good physical health and that your body is ready for pregnancy. Following a miscarriage, most healthy women do not need to wait before trying to conceive again. You might worry that pregnancy loss could happen again.
But take heart in knowing that most women who have gone through pregnancy loss go on to have healthy babies.
Additional Baby Loss Resources:
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep– a non-profit network of professional photographers around the country that will come to the hospital and offer free professional portraits to families who have lost a baby. They’re a great organization.
Faces of Loss– group blog for the baby loss community. Anyone can submit stories of miscarriage, stillbirth and pregnancy loss.
Still Standing Magazine – an online magazine focusing on encouraging women, men and even children to embrace life, connecting hearts around the world who have similar life experiences and becoming a resource for friends, family and even medical professionals, to know how to support someone enduring child loss and/or infertility
International Stillbirth Alliance– a non-profit coalition of organizations dedicated to understanding the causes and prevention of stillbirth. Our mission is to raise awareness of stillbirth and to promote global collaboration in the prevention of stillbirth and provision of appropriate care for parents whose baby is stillborn.
Bereavement Materials about grief and grieving the loss of a baby (from March of Dimes)
How to Stop Lactating – From The Glow in the Woods Bloggers
How to Plan a Baby’s Funeral– From the Glow in the Woods Bloggers
The Compassionate Friends– The Compassionate Friends organization provides online and in person support for families who have lost a child, regardless of their age. They provide local chapter meetings, candlelight memorials and grief support for siblings and grandparents.
First Candle– First Candle has resources for parents, grandparents and friends to help deal with the the grief of the loss of a child. They offer grief counselors 24/7.
Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Program– The SUDC Program was created to be a centralized resource for those affected by a sudden unexpected death in childhood, whose cause is left undetermined, unclear or unexplained. The site offers counselors for all family members, a huge database of resources and many articles.
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby -by Deborah L. Davis, PhD- This was by far the best book I read after the loss of our child. It has wonderful information on issues such as the loss of multiples, stillbirth, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and infant loss. There is a special chapter for fathers and it’s an exceptional book for doctors, nurses, grandparents and others to read to help them offer comfort to the grieving parents.
When a Baby Dies: A Handbook for Healing and Helping by Rana K. Limbo and Sara Rich Wheeler
Grieving Dads – A wonderful site with a blog, designed specifically for grieving fathers.
Everlasting Memories – wonderful online retailer that specializes in cremation urns and memorial jewelry.
Still Birthday – Wonderful resource page full of love, support, and information about all things related to miscarriage and baby loss. In addition to information about the loss, there is information about how to care for yourself during this incredibly difficult time. It also contains information about how to start the process again after a loss.
Page last audited 7/2018