Every family has different wishes about how their baby should be cared for after a loss. Your healthcare team will try to honour your cultural beliefs, values, and practices.
Once it has been confirmed that your baby is no longer alive, you may wish to collect the remains to be able to honour your baby or say goodbye in a formal way.
To collect the remains at home, you can get a plastic basin, sometimes called a hat, which can be placed in the toilet. These are available in most pharmacies, labs, or in early pregnancy assessment clinics.
If you are in a hospital or health centre, your healthcare team will ask if you wish to see your baby or the tissue that was passed. If your loss happened during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, you could have the hospital care for the remains or you may take them home with you. Talk to your healthcare team about what you want to do. For losses after 20 weeks, see making arrangements after a stillbirth.
You may not want to collect or see the remains. That’s OK. It’s important that you do what feels right for you. If you have questions, talk to your healthcare provider about your options.
Examination of your baby
You may have lots of questions about why your baby died. For pregnancy loss between 14 to 20 weeks, an examination may be available. You can choose to have a limited examination or a more detailed complete examination. An autopsy is only available after 20 weeks.
Some families want an examination and others don’t. Everyone is different. Take time for you and your partner to think about what’s right for you. If you need to talk to a social worker or spiritual advisor, ask your healthcare provider.
If you choose an examination, you’ll be asked to sign a consent form. An examination may not give you the answers you want, but knowing more can help with your grieving. An examination might also find out about health concerns or other factors that may affect another pregnancy, which could change how you’re cared for during your next pregnancy. Talk with your doctor if you have questions.
What happens during an examination?
A doctor who specializes in finding the cause of death (pathologist) will look at the baby and the placenta (if present). Their examination may find the cause of death. A pathologist may also find information about the organs that could help you find out about any genetic concerns.
- Limited examination: You decide what will be examined. For example, you can ask for only the outside of the body to be examined, including photos and x-rays. You can also limit the exam to certain organs like the heart and lungs, or small samples of skin.
- Complete examination: A complete examination is when the body is examined on the inside and the outside. To examine the inside of the body, cuts are made to remove and look closely at the organs, tissues, and brain.
The first examination report is usually ready within a month. A complete report can take up to a few months. Let your healthcare provider know which doctor you’d like the report sent to, so they can review it with you.
If you wish to pick up your baby’s remains after an examination, ask what the process is in your area. In Alberta, you can only pick up your baby’s remains yourself if your baby was under 20 weeks gestation. When a baby over 20 weeks gestation is stillborn, you will need to work with a funeral home (see making arrangements after a stillbirth).