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Stillbirth & Neonatal Death

If you have just  been told your baby has died prior to birth, this is called a stillbirth.  Most US states and countries, but not all, count stillbirths as 20 weeks and older.  A few European countries use 24-26 weeks and some developing countries use 28 weeks.  Maybe your baby died shortly after birth in the NICU, as a result of prematurity, birth trauma, or was even expected to die due to complications that were previously known.  There could be any number of reasons why a new baby dies. 

In any case, if your baby has died it may have come as a complete shock and is something you can never really prepare for.  This is difficult to accept and doesn't make sense.  Why did your baby die?

Too often the reasons for why your baby died don’t come, especially if no investigation/evaluation was done of the placenta, cord, and baby, including genetic studies when appropriate.  Maybe they don't know why the cervix had trouble holding the baby or why s/he was born so early. We are trying to improve babies chances through community collaboration and research. We encourage you to visit our Research pages and especially to go to  They have the most comprehensive research lists. You may find updates on research, surveys and studies to take to help us learn more about high risk babies and moms in the search for prevention strategies.

And you may see that we strongly encourage some evaluation of your baby after death - preferably having the placenta examined at a minimum, especially by an expert in placental pathology.  Dr. Harvey Kliman, Yale University, gratefully accepts placenta blocks (pieces of placenta that have been encased in wax) and will examine them for free and share what he learns from it with parents.   Visit his website for information on how to do this. 

Having had a son who was born still, I know this subject better than some of the others. The suddenness of a stillbirth, being told our baby has no heartbeat is shocking! It will throw you into a deep, dark place where you feel you have lost all control.   This is not how it is supposed to happen…to get this close and then to be facing a birth that will result in a death. Not fair. 

If your baby lived for a little while, every minute you get (or had) is precious and to be held in your heart from this day forward.  

If you come to this site and know your baby will die, you have some time to plan.  Don’t be afraid of bonding.   Some parents choose to stay away from their baby who is very ill and may die. Or they are advised by staff, family, or friends to do so. You have already bonded – it is your fears that are probably keeping you from being too close.

So many parents have told us they regret not making the best of every moment they could have had with their child prior to her/his death. Can you find the courage to be there during the living and the dying? Can you find the strength to be with, near, or even hold your baby as she/he dies? If not, that’s can be near and ask others to do the holding. Once you see others holding your precious just might change your mind and want to hold your baby after all.  Try to remain flexible and know it is okay to change your mind.

Please consider this when it comes to all decisions you must make--parents' concern over the immediate pain and heartache, while being in shock, causes us to make decisions that may become regrets.  This, then causes even more pain down the road. Be strong, be wise, and seek help and advice from others (Loss Companions, peers, birth professionals, books).

For this short time, everything you do matters. Be the parent you want to be. Sing the lullabies, tell the family stories, read the books, and even share the hopes and dreams you had for your life with your beloved daughter or son. It wont’ be too long before all you have are memories, pictures, and mementos to cherish. Fill your heart and mind with your baby.

Maybe you are past the NICU time and are now living with those memories. Cherish them and add to them. Take comfort; your baby knew, and still knows your love. They are not in pain anymore.

I wrote Empty Arms for you and for this very time.   Please consider downloading it or asking for it from your caregivers. I promise you it will give you some ideas on what is to come and how to proceed. It is not written to tell you how I think you should proceed; rather it can help you determine your way.

You are the parent of your baby. Today and forever. Now your challenge is to make the most of this short time you have. Mother/father your sweet baby - intentionally and fully. This is all the time you will have on this earth.   If like me, you have regrets about how you used this precious time, remember, we made the best decisions we could at the time.  Forgiveness and letting go of my regrets were the best choices I made which helped in my healing process.