Skip to main content

After the loss of your baby

We are deeply sorry for your loss. Experiencing a stillbirth or the loss of your newborn is traumatic and devastating.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead you may feel overwhelmed by feelings of shock, numbness, sadness and disbelief. It is important for you to have support and information to help you through this painful time as you try to make sense of what has happened. 
Coping with grief

Intense grief is a natural response after your baby dies, however every person's experience of grief is different. You and your partner have a right to grieve in your own ways and at your own pace. There is no right or wrong way to feel during this time; any feelings you may have are okay.

Grief may affect you both physically and emotionally. You may notice frequent changes in mood and that you cry often and easily. It is natural to replay events in your mind and wonder what could have been different. 

You may feel 

  • Lonely or isolated, thinking that others do not understand your feelings
  • Worried this will happen again
  • Guilty or responsible
  • Angry
  • Exhausted
  • Fragile and not able to manage

You may also feel

  • You are 'losing your mind' and simple things don't make sense anymore
  • You are 'living in a fog'
  • You are unable to cope with ordinary everyday tasks and have difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions
  • You have a desire to be alone and avoid even close family or friends
  • The future holds no hope or joy
We want you to know that you are not alone and there is support available to help you during this difficult time. There are also things you can do that may help you cope with your loss.

Pay attention to your feelings and accept them, however painful. Do not try to shut them off. Allow yourself to cry freely. You can also take a break from grieving; this does not mean you are being disloyal to your baby.‎

 
Creative activities allow you to get in touch with and express your feelings. You may wish to create a baby album, plant a tree or garden in memory of your baby, write in a journal, play music, paint or draw. If you choose, you can send birth announcements to family and friends, raise money for a specific charity or make a charitable donation in your baby's name.

Spiritual or religious practices, poetry, music, art, reading, gardening, volunteer work, and physical expercise all offer opportunities for peace and healing during this difficult time.
‎Try to delay major life decisions such as changing jobs or moving during the early stages of grief. When you are feeling better, you may feel differently about these decisions. 
Although you may not feel social, don't be afraid to lean on family and friends for practical and emotional support. When you are ready, it can also be healing to offer support to others who are grieving or experiencing difficulties. Random acts of kindness are a wonderful way to honour the memory of your baby. 


Do not blame yourself if you or others feel you are not 'getting over it' fast enough. Be as gentle and forgiving with yourself as you would be with a friend or family member grieving the loss of a loved one. As you begin to heal, think about how you can best care for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. 

Taking care of you

Physical Wellness

Experiencing the loss of a baby is life-changing. Delivering a baby regardless of the outcome affects the whole family. It is important for everyone to take care of themselves during this time. As the person who gave birth, you can expect some specific physical changes to your body. It is important to care for yourself despite your grief. 

You may not feel like eating when you are grieving or, you may want to eat more than usual.  However you are feeling, try to choose healthy food to support your emotional and physical health. 


How you can help yourself

  • Ask for help with grocery shopping and meal planning; dropping off a meal or healthy snack can be a simple way for friends and family to show they care
  • Visit Eating Well to learn more

Grief causes stress. Exercise can help you relax and reduce stress. Listen to your body and give yourself a chance to regain your energy. When you are ready, exercise may help with the emotions you are feeling. 


How you can help yourself

  • Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy such as walking or yoga
  • Do more intense exercise when you are ready 

Physiotherapists are a useful resource post-partum. Call our Physiotherapy department  at 604-875-2126 to learn more about healing after pregnancy and/or delivery.‎

Some people do not want to be sexual when they feel sad; others find comfort in physical closeness. Both feelings are common. Physically, it is safe to have intercourse or other kinds of sex once your stitches or tears have healed and vaginal bleeding has lessened. 

If you are not emotionally ready to be sexual, talk to your partner. Your partner may or may not feel the same way but it is important for both of you to share your feelings. Cuddling, hand-holding and back rubs are other ways to feel close. 

How you can help yourself
  • Use lubricant during sex to reduce vaginal dryness
  • Express milk from your breasts before sex if you want to lower the chance of your breasts leaking during sex
  • Explore other ways to be intimate with your partner if you do not want to be sexual
Call your healthcare provider if you
  • Have severe, ongoing pain during sex more than six weeks after delivery
  • Are worried about being sexual again, or if you don't feel interested in sex
The decision to become pregnant again is personal. You can become pregnant soon after your delivery even if you are expressing milk or before your period starts again. You may wish to be pregnant again or you may want to take time before becoming pregnant again. These feelings are normal. Talk to your healthcare provider about pregnancy planning and birth control options.

It is common to feel anxious when you are pregnant after a loss, but counselling or additional support may help you manage your anxiety. Another child will not replace the one you lost. If you decide to have another baby, think of them as their own person. Every one of your children will have a unique and special place in your heart. 

Caring for yourself gives you the strength to care for your family. You need rest, good nutrition, exercise, and support to recover from giving birth. 

Call your care provider if

  • Your bleeding soaks more than one maxi pad in an hour
  • You have a fever higher than 38 degrees Celsius or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • You feel dizzy or faint, and resting does not help
  • You have pain that does not get better with pain medicine
  • The skin between your vagina and anus becomes more swollen, or sore
  • Your stitches open up
  • You have trouble peeing or pooing

If you have flu-like symptoms or reddened painful breasts, contact your healthcare provider as you may have a breast infection.


Normal sleep patterns can be affected when you are grieving a loss. You may:

  • Find it difficult to fall asleep
  • Feel that constant thoughts of your baby or specific issues related to your loss prevent you from falling asleep
  • Find yourself waking up frequently during the night
  • Sleep fitfully or have disturbing dreams
  • Wake up not feeling refreshed
  • Feel you are sleeping too much

Sleep is an important part of the recovery process but it is common for people who are grieving to experience difficulty sleeping or notice changes in their sleep patterns.  For most people, this is temporary and the issue resolves itself over time. 


How you can help yourself 

Engage in activities that help relax you:

  • Drinking chamomile tea
  • Drinking warm milk and honey
  • Writing in a journal
  • Reading or meditating
  • Eliminating screen time for at least 30-60 minutes before bed
  • Avoiding caffeine, sugar and carbohydrates for several hours before bed
  • Practicing gratitude
Whether your problem is falling asleep or staying asleep, try not to force sleep by staying in bed, but rather get up and do something relaxing. This could mean listening to music, reading, doing a puzzle or practicing yoga. Try to avoide electronic devices as these may be more stimulating than relaxing.

Sleeplessness can be caused by grief, but it can also be a symptom of depression.

Call your healthcare provider if
  • Your sleep problems persist
  • Your sleep interferes with your ability to function
  • Difficulty sleeping is accompanied by other signs of depression.

Mental, emotional + spiritual wellness

Remember you are not alone. Use the following strategies to help you balance your mental, emotional and spiritual wellness.

Allow yourself to express your emotions in as many ways as possible. Talk to friends, family members, or elders you trust. Let them know how you feel and what you need. Be honest with them if you are not ready to talk about your feelings.


Sometimes choosing a spokesperson to share news and information on your behalf can help, particularly with coworkers and your wider circle of friends. If you are not ready to talk about your feelings, let your family and friends know. When talking is hard, you may find writing or other forms of expression‎ such as singing, dancing, deep breathing and making art helpful.

Everyone experiences grief differently. Respect your partner's way of grieving and their timetable. If your partner is not showing grief in the same way you are or does not wish to share their feelings. It does not mean they are not grieving deeply. Try to give them time to grieve at their own pace.‎

 

Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone you do not know than it is to share with a friend or family member who may also be grieving, or who may have their own ideas about how you should grieve. Participating in an in-person or online pregnancy and infant loss support group can also be helpful. Many people form deep bonds with others who have shared a similar experience and understand how it feels to lose a baby.


To join our biweekly, in-person Perinatal Loss Support Group call 604-875-2619.‎

Hormonal changes can lead to rapid  mood swings, frequent crying, or difficulty sleeping; these do not require medical treatment. 

Contact your healthcare provider for support if you continue to experience these feelings without improvement over time. Your healthcare provider can assess for depression or other conditions which may cause you to feel:

  • Sad or anxious
  • Irritable or angry
  • Guilty or worthless
  • Hopeless or overwhelmed
  • It is difficult to care for yourself or manage daily activities

Get help immediately if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else. Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room. 


Lactation after loss

The arrival of your breast milk after the loss of your baby can be difficult. Throughout your pregnancy, your breasts grow and change to prepare to feed your baby. This may begin as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy. Even though your baby has died, your hormones continue to signal to your body to produce milk.

Initially your breasts will produce colostrum or early milk which is usually yellow in colour. Then, about 2 to 5 days after giving birth (unless you dry up your milk), your breasts will produce milk that looks bluish white and increases in volume. This milk usually comes in after you have left the hospital. When your milk comes in, your breasts will feel very full, and the pressure in your breasts will become uncomfortable.

Some bereaved parents find the presence of milk upsetting and want to dry it up as quickly as possible, while others find it to be a comforting reminder of their ability to care for the baby they so loved and wished for. There is no right or wrong way to feel and it is your choice whether to donate your milk or dry it up.


Some people find that donating their baby's milk to a milk bank helps their grieving process. Donated milk may be life saving for other fragile and ill infants.

“These are my white tears. Every drop I pumped in the hope that Jamie would be able to come home one day and I could feed her a long time. Since she is at rest in eternity, these tears can go on to bless other babies who need a fighting chance with the gentlest food source they can have. There is so much love put into this. This is in honour of her”. SD

How to start

After you give birth, begin expressing milk by hand about every 2-3 hours during the day and at least once at night. Use a pump once your milk production moves beyond a few drops. Collect each milk expression in a separate container – either hospital containers or milk storage bags. If you need milk bags contact BC Women’s Provincial Milk Bank. Ask your nurse to show you how to use a breast pump.

If your milk supply is already established when your baby dies, continue pumping 6-8 times each 24 hours to maintain milk production. Expressing milk increases oxytocin levels in the early weeks which can help with mood and decrease your risk for depression.

Screening for milk donation

All donors, including bereaved donors are screened to ensure suitability for donation. You will be asked verbal and written questions and have some blood tests. You will also be asked to complete the Donor Expression of Interest form. 

Keep in mind that most medications given at the time of birth do not prevent you from donating milk but check with the Milk Bank before using herbal remedies, over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements to find out if they are ok to use while donating milk. Once screening is completed, any amount of milk you wish to donate is accepted with gratitude

Delivering your milk to the Milk Bank

Once your screening is complete, the Milk Bank will call you to discuss where the closest depot is. If your milk is in storage at a BC hospital NICU, it can be sent directly to the Milk Bank by that hospital.

How to stop donating

How long you continue to express and donate milk is up to you. Some prefer to donate only once, others donate for a period of time. Once you decide to stop donating, you need to slowly reduce your milk production by decreasing the number of times you pump each day. To do this naturally, follow the instructions in the "Drying up your milk" section below.


You may wish to dry up your milk supply. The most comfortable and low risk method is to allow your milk to dry up over a period of time. 

Natural methods of drying up milk
If your baby is stillborn
  • Wear a sports bra (stretchy material) to provide support. Binding your breasts is not recommended and is very uncomfortable as your breasts will get very full and often hard. Binding can also lead to a breast infection
  • Let the milk leak into your bra – use breast pads to absorb the leaking milk. Change the pads once they become wet
  • If breasts are very full, express only enough milk to be comfortable
  • Use warm or cold compresses for comfort; cold reduces swelling of overly-full breasts
  • Take pain medication such as ibuprofen
  • Check your breasts for signs of infection (redness, tender areas) and call your healthcare provider if you develop flu like symptoms
  • Drink when you are thirsty; restricting fluids does not decrease milk production
If your baby dies after you have established a milk supply, you need to gradually reduce the number of times you express or pump over a period of a week or so. Leaving milk in the breasts causes milk production to slow and eventually stop. Start by:

  1. Droping one pumping session in the middle of the day
  2. Reduce the number of pumping sessions until you are only pumping once in the morning and once at night
  3. The evening pumping session is usually the last one you will stop
If you have a lot of  milk you may find that gradually shortening a pumping session will ensure you do not become uncomfortable or develop sore breasts. Pay attention to how full your breasts are and pace your pumping so you are not uncomfortable.


Stopping milk expression abruptly is very uncomfortable and can lead to blocked ducts. If you have flu-like symptoms or reddened painful breasts, you may have a breast infection (mastitis); contact your healthcare provider to confirm and get help. 

Medication to stop milk production
Using medication, especially in the first few days after birth, means you will not have to deal with ongoing milk production. Perscription medication used to dry up breast milk works by interfering with the production of prolactin, the hormone that causes milk production. Cabergoline, is currently prescribed. Possible side effects from Cabergoline include nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, and nosebleeds. Some people experience ‘rebound lactation’ or return of milk production after the initial drying up period.Talk to your health provider for guidance about using medication to stop milk production.

Herbal remedies

Ingestion of herbs such as jasmine flowers, sage, peppermint, lemon balm and oregano has been promoted to stop milk production. Unfortunately, reliable studies have not yet been done to determine whether they work, or in what dosage. There are also concerns about additional ingredients in certain supplements that may be harmful.

Talk with your healthcare provider about traditional remedies for stopping milk production and work together to make a plan that is best for you.

Download a printable PDF of Lactation after loss



Tab Heading
SOURCE: After the loss of your baby ( )
Page printed: . Unofficial document if printed. Please refer to SOURCE for latest information.

Copyright © BC Women's Hospital. All Rights Reserved.

    Copyright © 2020 Provincial Health Services Authority.