Coping With a Pregnancy Loss
The sadness of losing a baby can be overwhelming. Each person may grieve differently and approach healing in a unique way. Resources are available to you as you understand what to expect and learn how to care for yourself and others. To assist with this, we offer the following information and hope it provides support and comfort.
Expectations for the Delivery Experience and After
Having a better understanding of what the delivery experience will be like, and what options will be available to you, is one way to help you heal after a pregnancy loss.
For many parents, holding and/or naming their baby or collecting keepsakes like footprints, handprint molds or photographs can be therapeutic.
Your delivery will depend in part on the gestational age. For example, different induction methods or pain relief medications can be used depending on how far along you are or how quickly the delivery progresses. Besides talking with your medical team about what will be best for you, there are other parts of the experience that you can consider beforehand.
Questions to Consider:
- Who do you want in the room with you?
- Would you like a support person to cut the umbilical cord?
- Would you like your baby bathed? If so, by whom?
- Would you like the baby to stay in the room with you?
- Do you want to hold your baby?
- Would you like to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby?
- Do you want to take pictures of, or with your baby?
- Do you want to have footprint and/or handprint molds taken?
- Would you like to keep a lock of your baby’s hair?
- Would you like a memorial service performed? Would you like your baby buried or cremated?
- Do you want a hospital chaplain to see you and/or your family?
- You may hear other infants on the floor crying or see pictures of infants on the hallway walls.
- A special sign shaped like a leaf can be placed on your door to inform others of your loss.
- A social worker is available to address any concerns you have or provide other support.
Pregnancy Loss Resources
It is important to know that while you are experiencing your own, unique sadness, you are not alone. There are several support groups available to parents to help them cope with loss and grief.
- Postpartum Support International (PSI): Support groups for those who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss
- Grief Watch: Publisher and manufacturer of bereavement books and materials that offer books, videotapes, audiotapes and other helpful resources for those who have suffered loss
- The Compassionate Friends (TCF): Provides comfort, hope and support to family members experiencing the death of a child
- United Way Association of South Carolina: Offers a variety of resources directed at mental health support
Healing after Pregnancy Loss
Healing is a process. It is important to take time to rest and heal physically, allow yourself the space and time to grieve, and find your own ways to honor your baby.
Healing the Body
- Bleeding will decrease over time, with the heaviest bleeding occurring in the first three days. It’s not unusual for the mom to pass clots, but they should be no larger than a small plum. To minimize the risk of infection, use pads, not tampons.
- To help with discomfort and prevent any extra irritation from toilet paper, you can use a small squirt bottle filled with warm water after using the bathroom.
- You will most likely have cramping, similar to menstrual cramps. Ibuprofen can help most with this discomfort.
- A pregnancy that lasts longer than 12 weeks might cause milk to come in after delivery.
- If you want to avoid increasing milk production, you should avoid expressing any milk from your breasts. Try wearing a supportive bra or a sports bra. Cold compresses can help with discomfort. Avoid letting hot water run over your breasts.
- Expressed milk can also be donated to a milk bank.
- Eat nutritious foods: fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy products, and proteins.
- Rest whenever you can.
- Remember that hormonal changes are normal and can magnify an extremely difficult emotional time.
Healing the Mind
- Find your own, meaningful ways to express your sadness. Remember, your grief is your own and that there is no one correct way for everyone.
- Do not suppress your emotions. It is important to communicate with your partner or family member, to share what you are feeling and how you are progressing.
- Learn more about outside resources that are available to help support you in your grief and healing. You are not alone.
Healing the Spirit
- Chaplains provide spiritual care that focuses on your values, beliefs and your sense of self and family. They are available to provide bereavement care, including support for miscarriage and infant loss. A chaplain can give parents a voice, understand their perspective and help them in whatever ways are best.
- Chaplains can provide a name blessing for your baby that includes a mailed, framed certificate.
- Learn more about support groups that are available.
Supporting Family Members
As much as moms and dads need to care for their own and each other’s healing, they must also be sensitive to the well-being of any other children. All children are different. Some suggestions for helping them understand and heal include the following:
- Encourage them to be involved in your baby’s memorial service if you choose to have one. Writing a note or drawing a picture to put in the casket or memory box are two ways to have them participate.
- Offer them a choice to see the baby. If they refuse, do not force the issue. You can also give them permission to touch the baby.
- Encourage them to express their feelings. Reassure them that they can share their feelings.
- Don’t hide your own grief. Talk to them about your own feelings, as they can learn from the examples moms and dads set.
- Maintain a normal routine, as children look to routine to support their sense of safety and security.
- Reassure your children the baby is loved and will never be forgotten.
- Be honest with your children. Avoid words or phrases such as “lost” or “sleeping.” Those can give children anxiety about falling asleep or getting lost. Using “dying,” “died” or “death” helps keep explanations clear.
- Listen to your children and answer their questions with honesty and clarity.
- Talk to them about any feelings of guilt they may have about losing a sibling – they may believe it is their fault.
- Hug, hold and rock your children.
- Be alert to signs of how they are grieving and understanding. For example, they might show anxiety about being separated from their parents. When you leave them, reassure them you will be back.
- Be sensitive to changes in their behavior, like insomnia, a change in appetite, or a return to previous acts like thumb-sucking or bed-wetting.
Losing a Child Early On
Loss may occur in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Seeing your baby breathe for some days can create a different experience as you cope with your loss. The death of a child is one of the most painful things that can happen. Parents may never really get over their child's death, but they can navigate through their grief to healing. There is no right amount of time to grieve but know pain eases with time. Moms and dads may have a lot of different feelings as they go through the grieving process, such as feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. Parents may show feelings differently. You and your family can get help as you grieve from your provider, a social worker, a grief counselor, or a support group.
It is crucial to acknowledge and support that everyone involved – both parents, other children and family members – are experiencing and processing their feelings in a personal way, finding their own paths to accept the devastating loss.