Sadly not every pregnancy ends with a family taking home their baby. Some families lose their babies in the first or second trimester. This is often called miscarriage and roughly one in four women will experience a miscarriage.
Some families will lose their babies after 24 weeks gestation. This is called a Stillbirth. There are more than 3,600 stillbirths every year in the UK, and one in every 200 births ends in a stillbirth. Eleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, making it 15 times more common than cot death.
For the families that lose their babies the emotional impact is life changing. Sometimes not only do they lose their baby, but they may do so in very difficult or traumatic circumstances. Some lose their babies at birth due to complications and this again is devastating and traumatic.
Other families lose their their babies shortly after birth, sometimes due to prematurity or other medical conditions/illness.
After the excitement of pregnancy and the hopes of having a new baby, the dreams are dashed to pieces and in its wake is left pain, heartbreak and sorrow. Many families struggle to come to terms with their loss, many feeling despair, guilt, confusion and anguish. Empty arms are a constant reminder of loss and stolen memories.
The loss of a baby is another part of birth trauma that is often missed or not acknowledged.
It is no surprise then that some women or their partners that experience the loss of a baby will go on to develop PTSD or other perinatal mental health issues.
Support for families at this devastating time is so important. While nothing can take away the pain of their loss, kind and compassionate care can be a lifeline at the darkest of times. It can provide solace and comfort, as well as a place to talk about their feelings and their loss.
Often bereavement support is one that can be done by anyone, anywhere, anytime – and costs nothing. How?
- Acknowledge the baby the parents have lost. If you know the baby’s name, use it. If you don’t know the baby’s name, ask.
- Take the parents’ lead on whether or not they want to talk about their loss.
- Try not to worry about saying the ‘wrong’ thing. The worst thing you can do is to skirt around the subject, or ignore it completely.
- Admit that you may not know what to say, but you want to be there for them and you want to help.
- Ask them what you can do to help in a practical way. Sometimes a cup of tea, a cooked meal or putting the washing on can all be a source of support for bereaved families.
What about support from those caring for families who have suffered bereavement?
- Acknowledgement that a baby lost at any weeks gestation is devastating to families. All loss should be treated with respect and support offered
- What provisions do maternity units have to support families after the loss of a baby? Bereavement suits? Remembrance boxes?
- Clear, concise, sensible, and up-to-date information should be provided to bereaved parents when they leave the hospital after the death of their baby. Parents need reassurance about the emotions they are likely to feel and how how to navigate grief, especially during the raw early weeks.
- There needs to be information also to clearly state how the parents can access appropriate support as and when they are ready.
- Understanding that the loss of a baby can result in birth trauma, PTSD, PND, Anxiety and other mental health issues.
- Remember partners are affected too.
- Access to counselling support is vital. Too many bereaved parents have had to fight for the counselling and psychological support they need – or have gone without. Some hospitals do offer counselling services: hospitals need to make clear to parents if this is available, and how to access it. Funding issues mean that not every area is able to provide these services, but charities thankfully do exist to fill the gap.
- GP practices and staff need to know what support is available locally so they can signpost parents appropriately, or where appropriate make referrals for them.
- Training in bereavement care for all health professionals and staff within maternity services. What is said to parents at this sad time stays with them forever, so the importance of this training cannot be underestimated.
- It is important too that there is debriefs/support to care for the needs of maternity, obstetric and neonatal staff after the death of a baby. These staff are deeply affected by the loss of a baby in their care.
It is also important that families who suffer bereavement have support in any subsequent pregnancies as it can be a time of great anxiety and worry. So too can taking home a baby after a previous loss.
If you are a family that has lost your baby remember you’re not alone and there are others that understand how you are feeling. It is hard but reach out for the support you need, speak to your GP about your feelings and don’t be afraid to accept help.
There are wonderful sources of support out there for families here are a few listed below.
Thank you to the families that made this page possible. x