What to Expect During Labor Induction for Stillbirth

labor induction for stillbirth

From one moment to the next, your whole life changes. The death of a baby after 20 weeks gestation is considered a stillbirth and most stillbirths occur before labor begins. There are a few reasons why stillbirth may occur, but like miscarriages, many times the cause can not be determined.

No one ever wants to think about this happening to them, but the statistics show that it can occur in about 1 out of 160 pregnancies, according to March of Dimes. Stillbirths are diagnosed with an ultrasound that shows the heart is no longer beating and sometimes a cause can be determined at that time (likely if there was an issue with the placenta).

Unfortunately, even when your child passes, you have to give birth which is obviously complicated. A doctor will discuss delivery options with you and more often than not, a c-section is not recommended — so labor induction is usually the agreed upon option.

Key point to understand: 

You don’t always have to induce right away. Unless there is a medical reason, you don’t always need to choose to be induced right away. Some families choose to wait a few hours or days, while others choose to wait until labor naturally starts on his own. Typically labor will begin about 2 weeks after the baby has died and is a valid option to discuss with your doctor.

Your cervix will be checked to see if there’s any dilation. If not, medication will be applied to ready the cervix. To induce labor, the mom is given an IV with the synthetic hormone Pitocen which will induce contractions and begin labor. The labor will be similar to that of a live birth in pain and length, but with the complications of grief knowing your child will not take a breath.

Community suggestions on advice/tips/insight would you give to someone who is facing induction of labor due to stillbirth:

“Know you have a choice to be induced right away or wait to make some plans; call NILMDTS; take LOTS of pictures (even your own or have family/nurse take lots since you only get to keep a certain amount from NILMDTS); spend LOTS of time with your baby (don’t be in a rush to leave – even though it feels like you just want to get out of that hospital); weigh them; look at every part of them without clothes on; bathe and dress them; cut their hair; look at the color of their eyes; take hand/foot prints; get a hand/foot mold (have family pick one up if your hospital doesn’t have one – $6 at Walmart in baby section); again – take LOTS of pictures; if you’re comfortable, allow others to meet your baby (other children, grandparents, aunts/uncles)…you won’t regret it that they met him/her later; know you can wait a month or two to have a service if you don’t want to have one right away; Once home – seek out others that have been through this and ‘get it.'” — Becky

“I personally, was beyond angry and upset that they were making me give birth to my dead baby. (I wanted a c-section, but couldn’t have one for medical reasons.)… Even though you may feel these negative emotions at the time, one day you will be proud of the fact that you birthed your child and got to experience such a bittersweet moment.” — Amy

“Less Valium and sedatives…I hardly remember the birth” — Sandra

“Another thing to maybe add to your article is to maybe mention the skin changes that can happen if baby has died in the days before delivery. I was quite unprepared for this, even though it is estimated our son had died in the 24 hours before delivery. He had little blistered areas on his wrists and ankles and I got the midwives to bandage them because I felt I was hurting him. I think it is important to know if you delay delivery, these changes will occur, and be prepared for them. If the hospital or funeral home will allow it, take baby home for a short time. This was never offered to us but I know someone that did this & was able to recommend it to someone else and they were so glad to have those precious moments at home.” — Jacqui

“I would suggest an epidural. AND take your time saying good bye…get as many pictures as you can…hold and kiss your angel. and remember the members of this site have all been there and can support you if you need it.” – Keri

” Contact a bereavement doula if available in your area. I wish I had one. Takes lots of pictures, if you can’t, have someone take them for you. That you have them if or when you are ready.” — Jennifer

” Have your loved ones with you. It will help you so much. You will be going through a lot of pain physically and emotionally and having them there will help. But i would suggest not have all of them there at one time for a long time because you will be glad they are there but there will be times when you need ro cry and mourn on your own.” — Candis

“Don’t feel rushed spending time with your little one. I was very worried that it may be weird or creepy, but it wasn’t. They were my boys and I hugged them, held them, and simply loved on them for the short time I had them in my arms. Take pictures and make memories!! You may be so overwhelmed with emotions, but you will cherish those memories/pictures later.” — Karina

“Wait for the induction until you have at least started to make your peace. You Do NOT have to be immediately induced. Take some time. (I went home for about five hours, until I decided I was ready, but it could be longer or shorter from person to person.) Try to start collecting advocates that can help you make decisions, like the pictures, holding your baby, funeral arrangements (can you take the baby home? In MD you can!)…so many decisions that are made even more difficult in the physically and emotionally drained state immediately post-partum. Create a birth plan. Talk about things. Create AS MANY memories AS YOU CAN. They will be the only ones you have.” — Heather

:: Share your tips/advice on what to expect, what to prepare for when facing and induction of labor due to stillbirth ::

Devan McGuinness

is the founder and executive director of the award-winning resource Unspoken Grief .

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