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After your stillbirth

Your physical health

Once it has been confirmed that your baby has died, you will need to deliver your baby. Some people are shocked to learn that they will have to deliver their baby.

As with any delivery, your body will go through some big changes and will need time to heal. Be sure to allow yourself time to rest and recover. It usually takes 4 to 6 weeks for your body to recover after delivery. You may continue to have vaginal bleeding during this time.

You can go back to normal activities such as work, school, and driving when you feel ready. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before you start using tampons or having sex again because there is a higher risk of infection for at ​​least 2 weeks after delivery. In Alberta, if you have had a stillbirth, you are still eligible for maternity benefits.

Your body needs time for the hormones to clear from your system so a pregnancy test may still show as positive for several weeks after your baby's delivery.

Delivering your baby

Your doctor or healthcare provider will give you information about labour and the options you have for how to deliver your baby. The options depend on your physical and emotional condition, your personal preferences, your original birth wishes, and what resources are available.

Your options may include:

  • induction of labour – this means you'll get medicine to help start your labour
  • waiting for labour to begin naturally
  • surgery or caesarean section (C-section)​

If you have high blood pressure, infection, or your waters have already broken, your doctor or healthcare provider may recommend that labour be induced (started) with medicine. This medicine may be given by tablet, suppository, or intravenous (through a vein in your arm).

If you plan to have any testing or an autopsy done, waiting for labour to begin naturally may affect the results. Waiting may also affect how your baby looks at birth. This is something to consider if you want to take pictures to create a keepsake. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns.

When they can, your doctor or healthcare provider will give you time to consider your options. You may be allowed to go home overnight to think about the news you just received. This may seem cruel at first, but many parents have appreciated going home so that they can think about what the experience might be like and how they might want to create memories of their babies. You may also want to think about who else you want as a support person at the time of your delivery. At home, you can also collect things you'd like to have with you for a hospital stay. How much time you have for this will depend on your doctor or healthcare provider's assessment of your health concerns.

When you are thinking about how to deliver your baby:

  • Your doctor or healthcare provider will talk to you about the different ways labour can be induced so you can make an informed decision about the process.
  • If your labour is to be started with medicine, you may be admitted directly to the labour and delivery area.
  • Sometimes surgery may also be an option. A caesarean section is a surgical procedure to remove your baby from your womb (uterus) through your belly (abdomen). Your doctor or healthcare provider will tell you if this is an option for you.
  • Your healthcare team will do their best to give you privacy to help make your stay as comfortable as possible.​
  • You’ll be offered support from a team of healthcare professionals, like a social worker, spiritual care advisor, or Indigenous health liaison. You can choose which services you think will be most helpful for you.
  • Your decisions and choices will be respected. If you have a birth plan, you may want to review it to see if there are some parts of it that you’d like to follow at this time.

During the labour, let your nurse know if your pain or cramping gets worse, if you are bleeding, or if you feel the need to have a bowel movement. These are signs that delivery is close.

Going through labour can be very difficult when you know that your baby is not alive. The loss of a baby is very hard to accept and as you go through the pains of labour it may be a very emotional time for you. Remember that this is no one's fault. Talk to your healthcare team to let them know if you need something for pain or for any other needs you may have.

You'll be able to go home from the hospital after:

  • you’ve delivered your baby
  • your vital signs are stable
  • you’re able to eat and drink
  • you’re able to be up and walking
  • your pain is controlled with pills (if needed)
  • you’ve had as much time as you want with your baby
  • you've had the opportunity to create memories and have included your family and friends

At home

Vaginal bleeding

Bleeding after delivery is expected. Because every person's body is different, the amount of bleeding isn't the same for everyone. At first, you may pass clots of tissue or have gushes of blood. This is normal during the first week. The bleeding should become lighter after 2 to 3 weeks. The colour should change from bright red to pink to brown as your uterus heals and returns to its pre-pregnancy size.

Call your doctor or healthcare provider if you still have bleeding after 2 weeks.


After your delivery, you may feel some mild cramping. This may last for a few days. You may also feel discomfort if you are passing clots. You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to help with the discomfort. A heating pad or hot pack on your abdomen may help to relieve cramps. Cramps can last up to 10 days following delivery while your uterus returns to its normal size.

Breast care

Breast tenderness is normal. It is caused by hormone changes in your body. It can be very upsetting for you to have breast tenderness at this time but it should go away within a few days.

Milk supply
Usually, milk comes in (starts) 2 to 5 days after delivery. Sometimes it takes a bit longer because of stress. Some people may not realize that their breast milk will come in after a stillbirth.

You have 2 options when your milk comes in. You can choose to suppress it or you can choose to donate it. There is no right or wrong choice.

If you want to suppress your breast milk, don't pump or regularly express milk from your breasts. The pressure and lumpy feel of milk and tissue swelling may be uncomfortable for 3 to 4 days. Sometimes this can last as long as 10 days. Gently hand express just enough milk to ease the discomfort. You may keep producing milk for a time after this but it shouldn't be painful. Your milk will slowly be reabsorbed. You may notice occasional drops of milk for several months.

How to feel more comfortable when suppressing your milk:

  • Wear a comfortable bra that offers good breast support.
  • Use cold compresses on your breasts for comfort. Apply a cloth-covered ice pack or bag of frozen peas to your breasts for 10 to 20 minutes several times during the day.
  • Take pain medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).
  • Use breast pads to soak up any leaking milk.
  • When taking a shower, let your breasts leak to relieve the pressure.
  • Avoid heat (like heating pads) on your breasts as this could increase discomfort.
If you choose to donate your milk, you can contact the Northern Star Mothers Milk Bank. Many mothers have shared that donating their milk to help another sick baby has brought them some comfort. 
It was very upsetting when I woke up in the night feeling as though I was still pregnant. That has gone away, but I still think of my baby at night sometimes.​​ Courtney, Baby Ian's mother

Fatigue and emotions

You may experience feelings of sadness because of a sudden change in your body's hormones after delivering your baby and the emotional work of grief. After labour and delivery, it is normal to experience some feelings of tiredness as your body recovers. If the fatigue and feelings of sadness continue, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about how you're feeling. Learn more about your emotional health after a stillbirth.

When to go get medical help

Sometimes very heavy bleeding or infection may occur after delivery. This doesn't happen often but if you have these symptoms you may need to call your primary healthcare provider, family doctor, or obstetrician:

  • heavy bleeding which continues for more than 1 to 2 weeks
  • passed blood clots bigger than a large coin (like a $1 coin)​
  • fever over 38°C (100.5°F) for more than 4 hours after taking acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • discharge from your vagina that does not look normal or has bad smell

When to go to the emergency department or urgent care

You should go to the emergency department or urgent care if you have any of the symptoms above and they are worsening or if you cannot contact your primary healthcare provider. You should also get emergency care if you have:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • bleeding that is much heavier than a regular menstrual period (soaking through a thick pad each hour for more than 2 hours in a row)
  • feelings of harming yourself​

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