Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Experiences when the baby has died before labour starts

All women are offered an ultrasound scan at around 18-21 weeks of their pregnancy to check for major physical abnormalities. It is carried out the same way as the earlier dating scan, but can reveal much more detail. This scan was the point at which some of the women we spoke to discovered there was something seriously wrong. Some parents we spoke to found out at this scan that their baby had died, others that their baby had a serious abnormality. Other parents found out their baby had died when they come back for a follow-up scan to check the baby’s growth, or at a later routine check-up. 

Finding out their baby had died was a complete shock for parents. Many of the mothers we spoke to felt their pregnancies had seemed to be progressing well. Although they had felt very sick and tired in early pregnancy, scans at about 12 weeks of pregnancy suggested everything seemed to be fine. Vikki and Michelle and Ian felt they had got to the stage where it was safe to tell their older children about the pregnancy.
Other parents had felt more anxious during pregnancy. Carly always had “a funny feeling almost, with Josephine… but I was always Googling that I felt like quite paranoid almost which I never was with my son.” Loretta had been anxious early in pregnancy because of previous pregnancy problems but had felt she could relax by 20 weeks of pregnancy. Some parents had felt their baby wasn’t moving as much as they had expected. Vikki Z had been worried her baby wasn’t moving enough at 16 weeks of pregnancy but her midwife told her not to worry.
Finding out the bad news

Most of the parents whose baby had died before labour started found out their baby had died at the routine scan at around 18 to 21 weeks of pregnancy. Others had come back for a follow-up scan to check the baby’s growth, or a routine check-up. Discovering their baby did not have a heartbeat at the scan was extremely shocking and the news was difficult to absorb. 

Several parents had taken older children along with them to the scan because they had not expected bad news. Michelle felt the need to ease the sonographer’s panic saying "It's okay. I know the baby's died." Both Sarah and Michelle had a strong feeling that something was wrong just before attending the scan where they found out their baby had died.
Many parents described extreme emotions, the “shock was as bad as the grief”. Vikki Z remembered shouting and “just felt that at that point, my world had just fallen apart… I'll never forget that, that was just so awful”. All the future plans parents had made seemed to disappear instantly. Elaine described how “from that moment, our lives changed for absolutely ever, because nothing was ever the same again”.
Some parents felt on first hearing the news that the diagnosis must be wrong as they could feel their baby moving and worried that the scanning equipment wasn’t working properly. But they soon had their worst fears confirmed.
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Deciding when to give birth

Having found out their baby had died, the next decision parents had to make was when to give birth to their baby. Discovering they were going to have to go through labour was often very shocking news, especially if this was their first pregnancy. Some parents were given the option of being induced or allowing labour to start naturally but they chose to have an induction. It was a big decision and some parents felt they were too upset to decide and they felt rushed.
Once a decision to induce labour was made, mothers were given tablets to prepare their body for birth. Most parents returned home for a couple of days while the tablets started to work although some stayed in hospital. Parents found the waiting time extremely difficult. Sarah described the waiting as “the worst, the worst, worst part. It was like bleeding to death. It was slow, slow and painful.” Some parents spent this time with friends and family while others wanted to be alone.
Returning to hospital to give birth was a “horrible journey”. Mothers talked about how difficult and emotional it was to go through labour and birth knowing that their baby had died

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