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Pregnancy and infant loss: The emotional ramifications of a stillborn child

Posted on 10-16-2015 Posted in Depression, Mental Health, Trauma - 0 Comments


The birth of a stillborn baby is an extremely traumatic event for parents to accept and process. Stillbirth is the term used when a baby dies in utero after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most stillbirths happen prior to labor but a small number occur during labor or birth. In the U.S., there are approximately 23,600 stillbirths annually, which is about 1 in 160 pregnancies or less than 1 percent of yearly pregnancies.

Although infections and some pregnancy complications contribute to stillbirth, not all of the causes are currently known. Most women who experience stillbirth and become pregnant again can have a normal pregnancy and a healthy child. There are some risk factors for stillbirth and they include:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnant with multiple babies
  • Mother is 35 or older
  • Diabetes; unusually high or low blood pressure
  • First pregnancy
  • Extended history of miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death
  • Complications during a prior pregnancy such as premature birth, preeclampsia or low birth weight

A common symptom of stillbirth is when the baby stops moving and kicking. There may also be cramps and vaginal bleeding. Stillbirth is confirmed by an ultrasound procedure that uses sound waves and visual imaging to determine the presence of a heartbeat. Any symptoms of stillbirth should be immediately addressed by a physician.

If stillbirth is confirmed and the woman is within two weeks of her due date, she may choose to enter labor naturally. Alternatively, labor can be medically induced or a Cesarean section performed to surgically remove the baby from the uterus.

The physical aspects of experiencing stillbirth are traumatic for parents and the emotional result can be devastating. For most, the news comes unexpectedly: 50 percent of stillbirths occur in trouble-free pregnancies. In addition to their trauma, parents must decide on medical procedures while they are still assimilating to the tragic news.

It is psychologically very difficult to carry a stillborn baby for two weeks. If labor is not spontaneous after that period of time, it will be induced to prevent the formation of blood clots. Physical recovery following delivery is similar to recovery from a healthy pregnancy and birth.

The American Pregnancy Association recommends sharing the trauma with grieving family members. If necessary, a close friend or family member can take on the role of communicator to relay the news to concerned parties and make arrangements in the aftermath of the event.

Parents who feel overwhelmed by grief should seek professional counseling. Sovereign Health Florida offers therapy to our clients as an integral part of their recovery process. Confidential counseling is beneficial to healing and can help in many ways. If you or a loved one needs assistance, please call to speak with a member of our team.

Pregnancy and infant loss: Supporting parents after the loss of a child

Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer

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