There are an estimated 2.6 million stillbirths each year. And yet, for some reason we find it difficult to talk about something that happens so often. Not just the physical repercussions, but mental health after pregnancy loss continues to remain a taboo subject in most societies around the globe.
This abandonment of understanding of the basics of mental health after pregnancy loss can often leave women and their partners feeling isolated and seeking much-needed support. Not to forget, the changes in mood owing to dropping hormone levels can add to the trauma.
However, by understanding the root cause and through coping mechanisms based around support, love, and care, couples who experience pregnancy loss can overcome the hurt.
Mental Health After Pregnancy Loss: Learn About the Root Cause, First
Image courtesy: Pixabay
Managing your mental health after pregnancy loss should first begin with comprehending its root cause. Generally, pregnancy loss can be broadly attributed to either a miscarriage or stillbirth. While the former is a spontaneous abortion anytime before 20 weeks, the latter can take place anywhere between 20 weeks and 37 weeks.
Stillbirth, in particular can even be identified based on the duration of the pregnancy:
- From 0 to 27 weeks: Early stillbirth
- Between 28 and 36 weeks: Late stillbirth
- After 37 weeks: Term stillbirth
While it is known that maternal ill-health and complications during pregnancy can lead to pregnancy loss, it’s crucial to identify the root cause in order to plan the next steps.
That’s why most doctors prefer that an expecting mother undertake pregnancy scans and come in for routine checkups. But in the event of the inevitable loss, here are a few primary causes:
- Pregnancy and labour complications: These can include preterm labour, overdue baby with the pregnancy lasting for more than 42 weeks, carrying multiple babies at once, or an accident or injury during pregnancy.
- Issues with the placenta: This is a crucial link that provides essential nutrients, oxygen and blood to the baby. If it is affected by issues of blood flow, inflammation or even infection, it can lead to pregnancy loss.
- Birth defects: As per the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, about 1 in every 10 stillbirths is due to birth defects. These include structural defects, Rh incompatibility, genetic conditions, or fetal growth restrictions.
- Infection in the body: Whether it is in the mother’s body or the baby’s, infection such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), fifth disease, syphilis, listeriosis, genital herpes, or toxoplasmosis can lead to pregnancy loss. Typically, infections are more common in stillbirths that occur before the 24th week of pregnancy.
- Issues with the umbilical cord: The umbilical cord connects the baby to the mother via the placenta. If an infection or inflammation occurs in it, or if it gets knotted or squeezed, it can lead to pregnancy loss.
- Maternal health: Finally, a mother’s ill health can also be one of the causes of pregnancy loss. Whether it is medical conditions such as preeclampsia or chronic high blood pressure or thyroid, obesity, and diabetes, all of these can prove to be instrumental.
Unfortunately, you may not notice any of these symptoms early on unless you’ve had a proper medical examination. It is only when you start experiencing physical changes such as bleeding, or experience vaginal pain, or cramping that you may realise that something is amiss.
Another tangible sign of pregnancy loss is that the baby stops moving inside the womb.
Either way, if you do notice any of these signs and report them immediately to the doctor only to find that you’ve sadly lost the baby, your first priority should be to discuss your next options.
What Happens After Pregnancy Loss
Physically speaking, your body may take anywhere between two and four months to recover. This, depending on your health and the root cause of the loss. For instance, if it is a miscarriage, chances are the fetus will automatically be released from your body. This is also called expectant miscarriage.
Alternatively, in some cases remaining pregnancy tissue is removed via surgery.
In case of stillbirth, if your baby has passed away before labour, you may be given medicine to induce labour. This is a safer option as compared to a cesarean section.
However, if there is still time until the due date, you may be advised to take a few days of rest while the medicine prepares the body (generally about 48 hours) for labour.
While your body continues to adapt to the physical changes, mental health after pregnancy loss is the one aspect that may need serious work. With couples experiencing a profound emotional impact, support and care are at the heart of psychological recovery.
Mental Health After Pregnancy Loss: How To Manage Mind and Body
At this point, your emotions may be running high. You may feel lost, angry, sad, and constantly reflect on what you could have done to prevent it; all at the same time. However, it’s important to not blame yourself or even feel the need to somehow ‘get over it.’
It may also help to maintain a journal of your feelings. Here are a few things that you may find helpful to help you get through the grieving process.
1) Know that it is ‘OKAY’ to grieve
You’ve spent many months bonding with your unborn child. It was a time of hope and positivity. You’ve picked out clothes for your baby, perhaps even bought a crib and all the other equipment needed for your little one.
You’ve perhaps even wondered what your baby may look like, and even the personality traits.
Of course, you’ll be affected deeply by this loss. How can you not be? So know that it is okay to grieve for your loss, in your own way. Whatever that may look for you.
2) Work towards managing your guilt
It can be hard not to feel guilty. You might wonder what you could have done differently. If you should have been more careful or gone to the hospital earlier.
When the truth is that none of what you could have done may have changed much.
But getting answers from your doctor may help you understand the situation better. Ask him/her about your current medical condition, what you can do differently the next time around, and if it can happen again.
While this activity may not change the present, it can prepare you for the future, and help you get closure.
Image courtesy: Pixabay
3) Think about your partner or spouse
While you are grieving this loss, it can be easy to forget about your partner or spouse who is also going through the same emotional trauma. Remember that men and women may show grief differently.
At this juncture, it’s crucial that you keep your partner in mind as well. Be patient and share your feelings with each other. Try to be a good listener and be respectful of each others’ grieving processes.
5) Remember the baby
Naming your baby can be a way of remembering and honouring him/her. Those around you can also feel more comfortable to grieve alongside if you name your baby.
While some couples already have chosen names for their babies, you may even choose to remember your loved one with a representative name such as Heaven or Angel. It’s advisable to choose a name that you are comfortable to say out loud.
In some cases, couples may even organise funerals for their babies. All of these decisions will be rooted in how you wish to remember your baby.
6) Prepare to get back home
It’s possible that getting back home both physically and mentally may be difficult at this point. You may feel that you cannot look at the crib you bought or no longer feel connected to your baby. So trust your instincts.
If you want family and friends to remove things that remind you of your baby then inform them before you come back. And if you don’t want that to happen, share that as well.
9) Watch out for any signs of depression
Sometimes healthy pregnancies can also come with their fair share of ‘baby blues.’ But in case of pregnancy loss, you may experience greater emotional impact. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the difference between grief and depression.
If you are constantly withdrawn, lose your appetite and even experience suicidal tendencies, these are signs of depression. You may need to seek immediate counsel and help.
Image courtesy: Pixabay
10) Take care of your physical health
While you work on taking care of your mental health after pregnancy loss, it’s also important to make sure you are physically healthy.
Good health through a balanced diet, and a well-rested hydrated body can help you recover faster and also keep your hormones in check.
11) Plan out future pregnancies
Eventually, you may decide whether or not to conceive again. This choice is of course, deeply personal. If you do decide to go ahead and try again, it should be on your own terms.
Know that it doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten your loss. It only means that you acknowledge that life moves on and you still remember your little one.
Talk to your doctor to make sure you are physically ready, when you are emotionally ready to take this step. Continue to take good care of your health. Spend time with your partner or spouse so you are both on the same page.
Most importantly, know that emotional recovery from pregnancy loss can be difficult and slow and difficult. But with support from family and friends, as well counsel from professionals, you can ease into the next phase of your life.
Sources: WHO, Healthline, NHS
Also read: Mental Health During Pregnancy: Everything You Need To Know
This article has been republished with permission from theAsianparent Singapore.