Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Deciding whether to see and hold the baby

Giving birth so early meant that the baby had either already died or only lived for a few minutes or hours after being born. Whether to see or hold their baby was a difficult decision and many parents were unsure about what they would want to do. They didn’t know what to expect, or what their baby would look like, and worried they wouldn’t be able to cope.

Coping with seeing the baby

In general, parents were pleased they had seen their baby. Many we spoke to were reassured by how their baby looked. Several described their babies as 'perfect' and ‘beautiful’. They were intensely moved by what they saw, often noticing family resemblances. Some noticed their baby’s skin was redder than they expected.
Several mothers had not wanted to see their baby initially. Midwives often helped guide parents in such an unfamiliar situation. They often offered to look at the baby first and were then able to reassure them about how they looked or show them photos. Liz was unsure whether she wanted to see her twins but was helped by her midwife who said "I'll tell you what, I'll go and look at them. And if I think you would like to see them, we'll see - you know - we'll go for it". This wasn’t the same for everyone, and some parents felt they weren’t asked by their midwife if they would like to meet their baby and had no one to talk it through with.
Some women asked their husbands to look at their baby first before they did, although often partners were also unsure about whether they wanted to see or hold the baby. Helen explained how her husband “wanted me to hold her, and looked, but he didn't want to actually hold her himself.” Other women felt that seeing and holding the baby had helped their partner make a connection with the baby that they had lacked during the pregnancy. For David Z seeing his baby was extremely important to him, “I mean, it's your boy. You love him anyway. Doesn't matter if he's dead, or not. You love him”.
On the whole, parents were pleased they had made the decision to see their baby. When Camille’s baby was born alive, she was concerned that her baby was suffering and “didn’t have the strength to watch my baby die”. Before the birth she had wanted to see, hold and dress her baby but she changed her mind and asked her midwife to do this for her.
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Babies were often carefully dressed by midwives or wrapped up in a blanket. Most parents were grateful this was done, although not everyone. Some felt the decision about whether to clean and dress their baby was intensely personal and that people's feelings should be respected. Vikki Z said she “didn't like the way… they had cleaned her up, and I didn't really want her cleaned up”. Midwives often carefully placed the baby in a small Moses basket or cot, which parents appreciated.
Holding and touching the baby

Parents made different choices about holding and touching their baby. Some felt scared they would hurt the baby because they were so small. Often parents held their babies for hours - cuddling and talking to them sometimes through the night. The baby was often kept in a cool cot to allow parents to spend more time with them and Sarah felt it would have helped to know about how cold her baby would feel. Some mothers, looking back, wished they had been guided and encouraged by their midwife to pick up and hold their baby.
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How parents wanted to handle seeing and holding their baby was a very individual choice. For most it was an intensely private experience and they did not want to share that with others. Some parents did invite the baby’s grandparents or close friends to meet their baby. Others regretted not sharing those moments, and wished they had invited their parents to meet their baby to be able to share the experience with them.
Some parents had seen the baby after the birth, but felt a day or two after leaving hospital that they needed to see their baby again. They were very grateful to staff for making it possible

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