After a stillbirth, most parents want to see and hold their baby. This is entirely up to you. You'll be given some quiet time with your baby if this is what you want.
You can also take photographs of your baby and collect mementos, such as a lock of hair, foot prints or hand prints, or the blanket that your baby was wrapped in at birth.
If you're not sure whether you want to take any mementos of your baby home, it's usually possible for them to be stored with your hospital records. If your hospital doesn't keep paper records, you may be given these mementos in a sealed envelope to store at home. This means you'll be able to look at them if you ever decide you want to.
You may also want to name your baby. However, not everyone does this and, again, it's up to you. Decisions about what to do are very personal and there’s no right or wrong to the way your respond.
You may be introduced to a bereavement support officer or a bereavement midwife. They usually work in hospitals or for the local council. They can help with any paperwork that needs to be completed and explain choices you can make about your baby's funeral. They'll also act as a point of contact for other healthcare professionals.
Read more about support after a stillbirth.
Finding the cause
You'll be offered tests to find the cause of the stillbirth. You don't need to have these, but the results may help avoid problems in any future pregnancies.
The tests you're offered may include:
- blood tests – these can show whether the mother has pre-eclampsia, obstetric cholestasis, or rarely, diabetes
- specialist examination of the umbilical cord, membranes and placenta (the tissues that attach you to your baby and support your baby in pregnancy)
- testing for infection – a sample of urine, blood or cells from the vagina or cervix (neck of the womb) can be tested
- thyroid function test – to see whether the mother has a condition that affects her thyroid gland
- genetic tests – to determine whether your baby had problems such as Down’s syndrome; these are usually carried out on a small sample of umbilical cord
More in-depth tests can also be carried out on your baby to try to establish the cause of death, or whether there are any conditions that might have contributed to it. This is called a post-mortem.
A post-mortem is an examination of your baby's body. The examination can provide more information about why your baby died, which may be particularly important if you plan to become pregnant in the future.
A post-mortem can't go ahead without your written consent (permission), and you'll be asked if you want your baby to have one. The procedure can involve examining your baby's organs in detail, looking at blood and tissue samples, and carrying out genetic testing to see whether your baby had a genetic disease.
The healthcare professional asking for your consent should explain the different options to help you decide whether you want your baby to have a post-mortem.
Registering a stillbirth
By law, stillborn babies have to be formally registered. In England and Wales, this must be done within 42 days of your baby's birth, and in Scotland within 21 days.
In Northern Ireland, you don't have to register a stillbirth but you can if you want to, as long as it's within one year of the birth.
See the GOV.UK website for more information about registering a stillbirth.
You'll usually have a follow-up appointment to check your health and discuss the post-mortem and test results (if carried out) a few weeks after you leave hospital.
This appointment is also an opportunity to talk with your doctor about possible future pregnancies. Before attending your follow-up appointment, you may find it helpful to write down any questions you have for your doctor.