Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Spending time with the baby before leaving hospital

We talked to parents about their experiences of spending time with their baby before leaving hospital. The time they spent varied from a few minutes to staying with them overnight. For most parents, the time they spent with their baby was a personal choice. Many felt supported by midwives to spend as long as they wanted in hospital, until they felt they were ready, with no rush to leave. A cold cot was often provided, which enabled them to spend more time with their baby, as it slowed down any deterioration in the condition of the baby. Parents often found memory boxes very helpful, offering books to read or lullabies to sing. Joelle found the memory box “gave me something to do… a positive way of making memories”.
Being in a bereavement suite during and after the birth made the experience “as comfortable as possible” for some parents. For parents whose babies were born alive but lived for only a few minutes or hours, they found the short time they had with their baby particularly precious. Some parents only spent a short time with their baby. This was sometimes through personal choice, and what felt right to them. But others felt rushed by hospital staff and were not provided with a cold cot which limited their time with their baby.
Deciding when to leave hospital

Deciding when it was time to leave the hospital was often difficult. Some parents felt that they could never have enough time with their baby but knew they would have to say goodbye. Sometimes it was when their baby’s appearance started to change that they knew the moment had come. Although cold cots enabled parents to spend more time with their baby, parents eventually noticed their baby’s body start to deteriorate with their skin changing. For Kelly, it was important for her “to remember her how she was. She was perfectly formed”. Some parents left and did not see their baby again, but others chose to go back to the hospital and visit their baby in the time before the funeral.
Leaving the hospital

For many parents the act of physically walking away from their baby was extremely hard. Parents described the terrible empty feeling of carrying a memory box out of the hospital instead of their baby. Vikki felt the pain of “knowing that you're not going to walk out with a baby. And you don't have to take the car seat with you, or - you know - a baby's bag with nappies in it, or babygros”. Even though they were dead, the idea of leaving their baby alone in the hospital was upsetting to parents. Asun described how “it was very hard, leaving him there, because you feel you're leaving him alone.”
Midwives often supported parents, suggesting different ways they could leave their baby, either handing them to a midwife, or leaving them in a cot. Seeing other parents with their newborn babies as they left the building was particularly difficult. Sometimes staff went out of their way to ensure no-one was around when they left the building. Although unfortunately this was difficult to completely avoid.
For some parents, although they had decided it was time to leave and go home, they felt frustrated by delays in the discharge process. Joelle and Adam waited four hours to be discharged home as Joelle was waiting for a prescription from the pharmacy.

Taking the baby home

Some parents were offered the option of taking their baby home with them. Of the parents we spoke to only Sharon decided to take up this offer. Other parents only learnt that taking their baby home was a possibility after attending support groups with other parents and felt they would have appreciated spending time with their baby at home. Michelle and Iain explained how they would have liked more time with their baby and the opportunity to take him home to meet their family. There is no legal requirement to inform the police of taking a baby’s body home (even over 24 weeks), however Sands advise that parents are given a form confirming their right to take their baby home in case they were involved in a road traffic accident.

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