If your baby dies in hospital - saying goodbye

"The light of a distant star continues to reach the earth long after the star itself is gone" - Author Unknown

In all honesty this is a subject you will not read about in pregnancy books and not one for the agenda in the ante-natal classes. And if it were discussed its not something you would exactly want to know about at the time.

Giving birth is supposed to be a happy time with the reward of meeting your baby at the end. A baby dying in the process is something that isn't suppose to happen these days. And when it does its the sort of thing that happens to someone else. We never expect that life and death can collide in such a short span of time but sadly for 1 in every 140 births in Australia, this is a nightmare that becomes a reality. This figure would be even higher if it included babies who die soon after birth.

If you are reading this page either you or someone you know are most likely to be in the early stages of grief after losing a baby. Or your baby might be very ill and you have been given the prognosis that they will only live a short time.

In the case of stillbirth sometimes there is a warning that the baby has died in-utero and a woman has no choice but to go through and deliver her baby. There can be no harder feat in life than to go through the labour process without the reward of a crying baby at the end of it.

If you are in the situation of having to give birth knowing your baby has died the below information will be useful in helping you cope through this difficult time and create some special memories with your baby.

If your baby is terminally ill and you have been told they have a short time to live, this information will give you some ideas on how you can make the most of the remaining days with your baby. Regardless of what stage a baby is lost it is important to create memories that you can treasure forever. Even if you may not think so at the time, these memories can later be of great comfort to you. Spending time with your baby will give you the chance to get to know them and will help you accept the reality of the loss.

image6editMany years ago it was common for women not to be given the opportunity to hold or even see their babies. Some women did not know where their baby was taken or whether they had a boy or a girl. Others believed it was cruel to give a mother her deceased baby to hold. Fortunately these days it is widely acknowledged that spending time with your baby is an important part of the healing process. This is still an individual choice and it is up to you to do what feels right. Even if you may not wish to see your baby, it is okay to change your mind if you wish to see them days later.

When someone in our lives dies we have memories to reflect on about that person. When a baby dies the only way to do this is to create memories. These memories will be with you forever and will be something you can treasure in the years to come. Sadly you only get one chance at this.

Losing a baby is a very vulnerable and shocking time. Ultimately you need to do what feels right for you - there is no right or wrong and you need to be comfortable with what you are doing, not what others expect you to do.

The below recommendations have been compiled from personal experience, various grief literature and from other bereaved parents and has been re-written here.

Spend time with your baby

  • See and hold your baby. Spend time looking at your baby, talking or singing to them and breathing in their scent. Kiss and cuddle as long as you need to and give family members (including siblings) the opportunity to do this too if they wish. This is the time to get to know your baby
  • Don't worry about what your baby may look like - any abnormalities or changes to their physical appearance are not important - what is important is that you take this opportunity to spend time with them and take in every detail
  • Do things that you would do with a living baby, such as give baby a bath, a nappy change, dress your baby in special clothes. If you can, try and choose the clothes yourself if it makes you feel better
  • Take photos and video footage. Even if you feel you may not want a photo, ask someone or a staff member to take a photo for you. You may not want this now but you may regret not having one in the future. If someone takes a photo on your behalf, make sure you get a printout as well as an electronic copy
  • There is a wonderful organisation called Heartfelt made up of volunteer child photographers Australia-wide who take photos of babies who are stillborn, premature or seriously ill children. They provide this service free of charge

Mementos & keepsakes

  • Ask the staff to help you with taking hand and footprints. There are also businesses such as Twinkle Toes who can come to the hospital to take hand and foot sculptures. Ask the hospital staff or social worker to arrange it for you
  • You may wish to keep some items such as hospital bracelet, tape measure, cot card, any wraps, clothing or hats your baby was wearing and a lock of hair. Don't hesitate to ask the staff if you can take the blanket your baby was wrapped in or other items used or that your baby had touched
  • Give a special gift or toy to your baby and take photos with these special items. You may also wish to buy the same item to keep as a keepsake at home. A good idea is to buy 2 versions of clothing or a blanket - one worn by your baby and the other for you to keep (particularly if it has their scent on it)
  • See our page on Creating Memories for other ideas

Your rights

During such a time you are likely to feel numb and not be aware of some things that you can do.

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions
  • Don't feel pressured into doing anything you aren't certain about - especially signing any forms
  • Ask for a private room or a room away from new mothers or the post-natal ward - the hospital may be able to accommodate this request if they have facilities
  • Ask the hospital if there is any bereavement support or someone you can speak to such as a social worker, counsellor, chaplain
  • Ask for explanations on what will happen to your baby and what the next steps are. Write down your questions - you may find at a later stage that you will be ready to ask more questions
  • You can ask the staff to bring your baby to you at any time and you can have them with you overnight
  • You may be able to take your baby outside for a walk and may be able to take them home with you or a while (check with the hospital on the procedure)
  • As with any death in Australia, babies born after 20 weeks gestation need to be registered with Birth Deaths and Marriages and your baby will be buried or cremated. The hospital will give you the necessary paperwork about registration, and a funeral director will organise the rest
  • In Australia under Freedom of Information, you are able to apply for a copy of your medical record. An article that explains it well can be found here: How can I get a copy of my medical record? (Contact the hospital's medical records department for further information). However please be aware that it can also be difficult to read through the medical notes as it is likely to stir up memories when seen in that way
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