Jan Auffret, specialist bereavement midwife, explains the support you will get from the hospital and others associated with your care, after you deliver your baby.
Creating memories with Your Baby
It can be very difficult to imagine how you will feel once your baby has been born and you may have conflicted emotions about holding, seeing and naming your baby as well as taking photographs and creating other memories with your stillborn child.
You will be asked if you have a name for your baby and the hospital staff can help you to make sure you to create as many precious memories as you would like together, whether that is with photographs, footprints or in any other way you wish.
You may find this pamphlet, prepared by SANDS, the leading stillbirth charity, on saying goodbye to your baby and creating memories that you can carry with you.
Jan talks about the importance of creating memories of your baby and how you can do that after your baby is stillborn.
Dealing with the Formalities
Your hospital should offer you support to make choices for your baby’s funeral, and your personal cultural and religious beliefs will be respected. If your baby was born after 24 weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s birth will also be registered.
Bereavement support will usually be available to you through your hospital, usually in the form of a specialist bereavement midwife, or via another channel of support. This can be really helpful in those early, bewildering days of your loss, for both practical and emotional support.
The physical after effects of having your baby may be unexpected so we’ve listed the common physical and emotional effects you may experience, after you have given birth to your precious stillborn baby.
Jan explains the physical effects of birth following delivery for mums whose babies are stillborn, including how to manage milk production.
We at LOLA understand that having your breast milk come in, when you do not have your baby to feed, is one of the cruellest experiences for any mum already devastated by the loss of her child and emotionally and physically exhausted by delivery.
After the birth of your baby, you will usually experience your breasts filling with milk around 3 days after. This may be very painful and uncomfortable. It is recommended to keep a supportive bra on in this period. Ice packs may be useful to deal with this (you could wet breast pads and freeze them). Curly cabbage leaves may also help. Try not to touch the breasts to avoid stimulating more milk. If this pain is excessive (it is for 1 in 3 women), it is possible to have a tablet to help suppress the milk production. These tablets may be prescribed in the hospital if you are still there or usually by the GP if you are home.
You may also find this link useful for additional advice in managing breast milk after you have delivered your baby.
Taking care of your body: care and infections
After you have delivered your baby, it is important to be aware of how your body will respond and to take good care of yourself as you begin, physically, to heal.
After giving birth, you are likely to experience a post-birth discharge known as “lochia.” This varies for each woman and changes from red (lochia rubra, which usually lasts 3-4 days) to pink/ brown (lochia serosa, which lasts 4-10 days) to clear (lochia alba, which lasts 10-28 days). This may vary if you have had a Caesarean; it may seem lighter at the beginning and you may have heavier discharge for a few days in the week after the birth. It is really important that you change your sanitary towel frequently throughout the day and be aware of hand hygiene before and after you change your pad to avoid transmitting any infection. It isn’t advisable to use tampons at this time. Your discharge should never smell bad and if it does, it is a good idea to inform your midwife or GP as this may be a sign of infection.
If you have had a Caesarean, you will also have a wound low down on your abdomen. It is important to keep this clean and dry. It may appear bruised during the healing process and this is normal. Your midwife will examine your wound when she visits you. Do let your midwife or GP know if there are any concerns, specifically if the wound is smelly or if there is discharge from the site.
After you have delivered your baby you will normally experience period-like cramps known as “after pains”. These may be stronger if this baby is not your first child. You may take pain relief for this. If you have any concerns or issues with persistent pain in your abdomen or excessive vaginal bleeding after a week, it is a good idea to contact your GP or midwife for a check-up. Your midwife should also routinely visit you at home during this time.
Other general symptoms to be aware of include feeling shivery or generally unwell, pain or swelling in your legs or shortness of breath or coughing up blood. It is really important that you don’t hesitate to contact your midwife or GP if you have any concerns.
Your bladder and bowel should return to normal function after the birth of your baby. It is important that you pass urine regularly and completely empty your bladder each time. If you have had perineal stitches, they may sting the first day when you go to the toilet. If you are worried about this, it can be nice to have a jug next to the toilet so that you can pour water over your vulva, which may help with the sting and help with hygiene, too. You may take pain relief or a suppository can be given to help with any perineal pain. You may also find ice packs useful, to give immediate relief and promote healing.
It may be 2-3 days before you have a bowel movement. The first bowel movement can be a little scary if you have had a perineal tear in particular. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and to keep the stool soft, have fruit and vegetables in your diet. A gentle laxative like lactulose may be given if you think constipation may be an issue for you. If you have a haemorrhoid, then it is important to avoid constipation and you may find it helpful to apply a topical cream.
If your blood group is Rhesus Negative, you may require an Anti-D injection before you go home. You will be advised of this by your midwife.
Pelvic Floor Exercises are recommended and may be commenced gently as soon as you feel ready to do so. This link from NHS on Pelvic Floor Exercises might be useful, when you are ready.
Jan offers some guidance for mums on exercise, physical activity and intimacy.
Having sex again may be both emotionally and physically very difficult when you have lost your baby. Some women prefer to wait six weeks, after they have had their post-natal check up with their GP, before having sex again. However, if there is nothing preventing you from doing so, you may prefer to resume having sex with your partner earlier than that. Whenever you do start having sex again, it is advisable to use plenty of lubrication and to start very gently. If you have persistent discomfort or pain when you’re having sex, it may be best to stop and to ask your GP for further help and guidance.
In particular, if you have pelvic girdle pain, urinary or bowel leakage or uncontrolled loss of wind, sudden vaginal discomfort, backache or bulging of your abdominal muscles, it is sensible to seek further help from your GP, physiotherapist or osteopath.
This pamphlet on having sex after losing a baby will give you more information on maintaining physical and emotional contact with your partner after suffering baby loss, when you can start having sex again, as well as how you might feel when you do.
When you have carried, lost and delivered your baby, you will need to rest.
When you are ready to move your body again, we at LOLA have provided a range of resources to help you. By viewing our Wellbeing and Exercise section, you can find information on how and when to start gentle exercise. You can also find specially designed yoga and Pilates classes which take account of both your physical and emotional pain and can help your physical and emotional recovery, after losing your precious child.
Jan offers some advice on emotional wellbeing and dealing with deep grief for mums following the loss and delivery of their babies.
The emotional impact of losing your baby is likely to feel overwhelming. It is really important that you find support where you can, in the form of your bereavement midwife, via Talking therapies, staying in touch with your GP, health visitor and friends and family who support you. Your GP should be informed when you are discharged, and you may seek help and guidance from them on your physical and emotional wellbeing after you have delivered your baby and you leave the hospital, including information on local bereavement groups and other local support.
You are not alone and we understand that losing your baby is utterly devastating. To help you to cope with the overwhelming grief you are experiencing you can also tap into the resources here at the Lola Project to help you, by checking out our support for you on Healing therapies and Wellbeing. We also recommend you look at these other sources of support.