When pregnancy goes wrong
Losing a baby at any stage in pregnancy can be extremely distressing and upsetting. It can come as a terrible shock for you and your loved ones, and it’s often a time of intense emotion and grief. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about it and it’s different for everyone.
What can go wrong
Sadly, you'll lose your baby if you have:
- an ectopic pregnancy
- a miscarriage
- a stillbirth
An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilised egg starts to develop outside your womb. This usually happens in one of your fallopian tubes which lead from your ovaries to your womb. If an egg implants there, it can't develop into a baby.
Unfortunately, it's not possible to save an ectopic pregnancy.
About 1 in every 100 pregnancies are ectopic.
More about ectopic pregnancy
A miscarriage is the loss of your baby before 24 weeks. Most of the time there’s no clear reason why it happens, but it’s very unlikely it’s caused by anything you did or didn’t do.
Many women have a miscarriage before they even know they’re pregnant. If this happens it can feel like a late period with heavy bleeding.
Around 1 in every 5 pregnancies miscarry. Most women who miscarry do so in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy - this is sometimes called an early miscarriage.
More about miscarriages
A stillbirth is when a baby dies:
- after the 24th week of a pregnancy
- during birth
It can happen for lots of reasons and doctors don’t yet know all the causes. Some stillbirths can't be explained, while others are linked to issues with:
- the placenta
- mum’s health
- the health of your baby
More about stillbirth
Coping with the loss of a baby
Everyone reacts differently to the loss of a baby. Your emotions might be overwhelming and you might feel physically drained too. It can also raise to the surface other experiences of loss.
When and how it happens is no guide to how you’re likely to feel. If you already have children, think about how they might be feeling too.
It’s important to know you're not alone and have done nothing wrong. Take time to rest and look after yourself.
This is a very difficult time for you, your partner and your family and friends. It’s important to support each other and ask for help if you need it. It can sometimes help to talk with others who have been through the same thing.
You'll need care from your midwife and doctor to make sure your body's recovering. Your midwife will support you through all the decisions you need to make and help you to find the right support. You don’t have to manage alone.
Grieving for your baby
You, your baby’s father or your partner and your family are likely to need time to grieve.
Some parents find it helps to do something to remember their baby, like:
- creating a space in their garden
- saying a prayer
- writing a poem
At whatever stage of pregnancy your loss is, and for whatever reason, you can make a memory box.
Hospitals provide memory boxes for parents to create memories, these special boxes are donated by charities.
Ask your midwife about this.
It’s natural to want to know why this happened, but it’s not always possible to know why your baby died. This can be hard to come to terms with.
If you lost your baby after 13 weeks, you'll be offered a post-mortem (autopsy). This is a medical investigation to:
- try to understand what happened
- find out if there are issues that could affect a future pregnancy
Whether or not to have a post-mortem can be a difficult decision to make. You’ll be given support and time to think it over. If you have questions or worries, ask the person who discusses the post-mortem with you.
Registering the death
If your baby dies after 24 weeks of pregnancy (stillbirth), you must register the death within 21 days.
You can’t officially register a baby lost before 24 weeks of pregnancy. But some hospitals will give you a certificate in memory of your baby if you ask.
Some parents don’t want to do any of these things, and that’s okay too. There’s no right or wrong way.
How to register the death of a baby
Funeral Support Payment
You may be entitled to help, if required, with funeral costs for your baby (including those stillborn).
Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.
04 March 2022
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