Learning why a baby has died

While there are many explanations as to why babies die, each individual circumstance is unique. Sometimes the cause is obvious but often an investigation into the death is necessary. 

Common causes of death in babies are:

  • a fetal abnormality or birth defect
  • bleeding from the placenta
  • the placenta not working properly
  • problems with the umbilical cord
  • complications during labour
  • prematurity, and complications related to this
  • infections.

Following the death of a baby, a number of tests may be suggested to try and find the cause of death. These tests may include:

  • blood tests from the mother
  • examination of the placenta
  • x-rays and other imaging techniques
  • post mortem examination of the baby.

More about post mortem

A post mortem examination or an autopsy is a medical examination of the baby, which may or may not involve surgery.  A post mortem examination aims to find out as much as possible about why the baby died. A specialist pathologist does the examination and even though the baby is deceased, the pathologist is trained to treat the baby as they would treat anyone having an operation, with respect and care.

Parents decide how detailed a post mortem will be. Consent can be limited to just an external examination or permission can be given for the baby to have a surgical investigation. Parents can also express their preference about organs being removed for testing. The most information will be gleaned from a full post mortem with organ testing but it some cases it may not be necessary. For some parents information may be less important than other issues such as a timely burial or cremation and others simply feel uncomfortable with the notion of a surgical post mortem.   

A post mortem cannot be done without parental consent. The only exception to this is when the baby’s death has been reported to the Coroner.

A post mortem can give the following information:

  • the causes of death or what to exclude as causes of death
  • gestational age
  • sex of the baby
  • time of death
  • the impact of genetic or physical problems
  • whether there were any complications due to obstetric and/or paediatric care  
  • things that will add to medical knowledge and help mothers and babies in the future.


The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.