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Stillbirth (Before Delivery): Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Stillbirth is the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy. When a baby dies while still in the womb, this may also be called fetal loss.

A doctor may deliver the baby by giving you medicine to start labour. Or you may have a surgical procedure called D&E (dilation and evacuation).

The loss of a baby is devastating and very hard to accept. You may wonder why it happened or blame yourself. But fetal loss can happen even during a pregnancy that has been going well.

In the weeks to come, try to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Take care of yourself in whatever way feels best.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What happens next?

After a fetus dies, labour will usually begin on its own within 2 weeks. Many women don't want to wait that long. They choose to have labour induced. This means going to the hospital and, usually, getting medicine that starts the labour process.

If labour doesn't start on its own, your doctor may take steps to get your labour going.

  • Your doctor may use medicine to soften your cervix and help it begin to open.
  • Then your doctor probably will give you medicine to start labour and keep your labour going.
  • You will be given medicine for pain if you need it.

After delivery, you will probably be able to see the baby if you want to. Although this can be very hard, some parents want the chance to hold the baby and say goodbye.

You will probably go home the next day.

Surgery instead of labour

Some women may be able to choose surgery (D&E) instead of going through labour. Your doctor will discuss whether this is an option for you.

Delivery by caesarean section is rare in fetal loss. It is major surgery, so it's only done when going through labour would be more dangerous.

Deciding about autopsy

If the exact cause of death isn't known, you may face a decision about whether to have an autopsy. This can be a hard decision. But an autopsy may help you find out why this terrible loss happened to you and whether it could happen again.

How can you care for yourself at home?

After the delivery, there are things you can do for your physical health and comfort.

Taking care of your body

  • Use pads instead of tampons for the bloody flow that may last as long as 2 weeks.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), to ease cramps. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is okay to have sex. Many doctors recommend waiting about 4 to 6 weeks. This gives your body time to heal.
  • If your milk has started to come in, talk to your doctor about how to ease discomfort.

Dealing with your grief

  • Rest whenever you can. Being tired makes it harder to handle your emotions.
  • Tell your family and friends what they can do. You may want to spend time alone, or you may seek the comfort of family and friends.
  • Try to eat healthy foods, get some sleep, and get exercise (or just get out of the house) to help you feel strong as you heal.
  • Talk to your doctor about how you are coping. He or she will want to watch you for signs of depression. You may want to have counselling for support and to help you express your feelings.
  • Think about making a memory book of your pregnancy and baby. Many parents name their baby and want to take pictures and keep a lock of hair. The hospital may take photos or footprints for you. Some parents have a ceremony, such as a christening or other blessing or a funeral service.
  • If you can, try to talk to others who have gone through this loss. You can make connections online or in person. Here are some organizations that can help:
    • The Compassionate Friends of Canada. This is a resource for people who have lost a child. The group can help put you in touch with one of its support groups in your area. The website is http://tcfcanada.net.
    • Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network. This group can offer advice and connections to others who have lost a child. The website is http://pailnetwork.ca.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe vaginal bleeding.
  • You have severe pain in your belly or pelvis.

Call your doctor, midwife, or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of pre-eclampsia, such as:
    • Sudden swelling of your face, hands, or feet.
    • New vision problems (such as dimness, blurring, or seeing spots).
    • A severe headache.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have belly pain or cramping.
  • You have any vaginal bleeding.
  • You have had regular contractions (with or without pain) for an hour. This means that you have 8 or more within 1 hour or 4 or more in 20 minutes after you change your position and drink fluids.
  • You have a sudden release of fluid from your vagina.
  • You have low back pain or pelvic pressure that does not go away.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.