Health

  • Written by Vicki Flenady, Professor, Mater Research Institute; Director, Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth, The University of Queensland
imageMillions of women around the world are estimated to be living with depressive symptoms after stillbirth.from www.shutterstock.com

There are at least 2.6 million stillbirths a year across the world. More than 2,000 families each year suffer the loss of a stillborn baby in Australia, equating to six stillborn babies every day.

The death of an unborn baby is a tragedy that deeply affects families, health systems and wider society. Parents continue to grieve for their baby for years. Their functioning and sense of self can be profoundly changed.


Read more:More than 20,000 stillbirths worldwide are avoidable


Here are five ways we can help parents cope with the tragedy of stillbirth.

1. Acknowledge parents’ loss

Taboos and myths about stillbirth make it a topic many family, friends and communities feel ill-equipped to deal with and are unprepared to talk about. But avoiding the topic can magnify the trauma.

Because others are uncomfortable with the topic, many parents feel unable to talk about their loss. And well-intentioned comments, such as “it was meant to be”, “these things happen” and “you can always have another baby”, minimise parents’ loss and may only leave parents feeling more isolated in their grief.


Read more:Death and families – when ‘normal’ grief can last a lifetime


Listening to parents and acknowledging their stillborn baby as a member of their family, and acknowledging their grief, is vital to improve care and reduce the impacts of this devastating loss.

2. Offer ongoing support to parents

Throughout the world, 4.2 million women are estimated to be living with depressive symptoms after stillbirth. Many suffer in silence due to the taboo surrounding stillbirth.

Respectful and supportive care is essential in hospital. But it’s often when parents arrive home without their baby that the reality hits and the long and often lonely journey of grieving begins.

imageWhen parents arrive home without their baby the reality hits and the long and often lonely journey of grieving begins.from www.shutterstock.com

Yet less than half of parents in high-income countries receive a follow-up visit or phone call from their hospital. And only around half receive information about who to contact for support after they leave hospital. These figures are even lower for parents in developing regions.

3. Raise public awareness

Until fairly recently, stillbirth has been a neglected issue, largely absent from the global health agenda. We need to improve public awareness of stillbirth to make sure our social communities and workplaces are equipped to provide the kind of support and recognition parents need.

Women and their partners should also be equipped with knowledge about how to reduce their risk of having a stillborn child.

Hearing the voices of bereaved parents in the public will help break down taboos. For public health campaigns to be effective, target populations need to be aware of the health threat as a first step, followed by messages that move the target audiences to action.


Read more:Passed away, kicked the bucket, pushing up daisies – the many ways we don’t talk about death


One of the most successful public health campaigns are the back to sleep campaigns to reduce sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The simple, universally targeted messages reached new and receptive parents.

If campaigns are not universally agreed to by all stakeholders, a plethora of competing campaigns may arise. This will confuse the target population, diminishing the campaigns’ value or, worse, they may cause harm.

Among the most successful public health campaigns are the back to sleep campaigns addressing SIDS.

Organisations such as Stillbirth Foundation Australia, Red Nose, Sands, Still Aware and Bears of Hope have a key role to play in supporting parents and raising public awareness. They are collaborating with the Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth to develop a unified campaign.

4. Investigate each stillbirth

A critical analysis of every baby’s death can identify contributing factors to help explain the event and prevent future deaths. Such investigations can not only determine the cause of death, but can also unearth systems issues such as a failure to implement evidence-based clinical practice guidelines.

Substandard care plays a role in 20-30% of stillbirths. These cases often show the need to improve detection of women at increased risk during pregnancy.


Read more:Better care and communication can cut stillbirth rates and avoid unnecessary trauma


New Zealand and the UK have national systems to ensure comprehensive review of every stillbirth and neonatal death. Australia’s federal government, through the NHMRC, has funded the Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth, to reduce the stillbirth rate and improve care after stillbirth for affected families, including in subsequent pregnancies. This is a step in the right direction.

The Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand in partnership with the stillbirth CRE sets out detailed recommendations for investigation and audit of these deaths, but the guidelines are yet to be fully implemented across Australia. Many stillbirths are not fully evaluated as to causes and contributing factors.

Training of health-care professionals in this area has begun, and the stillbirth research centre will work with maternity hospitals to expand this training.

5. Give parents answers

Parents want to know why their baby died. Finding a cause of stillbirth, and the factors that led to that cause, helps parents begin to make sense of their loss.

Most parents will conceive again, and understanding what caused their baby’s death means having a better idea of the likelihood of the cause recurring in future pregnancies.

Specific interventions, such as low-dose aspirin, early scheduled birth, or treatment for anxiety and depression, may reduce the risk of recurrence and improve psychological outcomes.

In high-income countries, around 30% of stillbirths are classified as “unexplained”, though many of these deaths are not comprehensively investigated. By increasing the proportion of stillbirths that are appropriately investigated and improving diagnostic techniques, it may be possible to halve this figure.


Read more:Why we don’t know what causes most birth defects


Problems with the structure and function of the placenta are often linked to stillbirth.

However, many stillbirths occur unexpectedly in an otherwise healthy mother and baby, and remain unexplained after a full investigation. So, research is needed to better understand the mechanisms for these unexplained stillbirths.


Victoria Bowring, general manager of Stillbirth Foundation Australia, contributed to this article.

If you are a parent needing support, visit: Bears of Hope, SANDS, or Red Nose

Vicki Flenady receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Stillbirth Foundation Australia

Aleena Wojcieszek has received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Stillbirth Foundation Australia

David Ellwood receives funding from National Health & Medical Research Council for research into stillbirth. He is a past-Chair of the International Stillbirth Alliance

Fran Boyle has received funding from NHMRC, Stillbirth Foundation Australia and Sands Australia

Jonathan Morris is the Chairman of Stillbirth Foundation Australia. He receives no remuneration for this role. He receives research funding from the NHMRC.

Philippa Middleton receives funding from the NHMRC.

Authors: Vicki Flenady, Professor, Mater Research Institute; Director, Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/five-ways-to-help-parents-cope-with-the-trauma-of-stillbirth-69622

The Viw Magazine

Three ways to save on rising electricity cost in Sydney

It has been reported that the electricity sector of Australia is in crisis. The electricity bills have been increasing for the last few years, and the sad news is it's unlikely to go down anytime so...

Sheila Mae Vistal - avatar Sheila Mae Vistal

LIfeStyle

People prioritising their relationships with themselves

When one hears the word ‘relationship’, most people automatically think of romantic bonds. Of ...

Leading dentist warns parents against teeth whitening

The teeth whitening industry is experiencing significant growth with many people seeking out produ...

Plastic surgeon aims to re-define beauty

Dr. Anh Nguyen aims to re-define what beauty means. She has brought together 40 of her patients aged...

This Is How to Take Care of Beard during summer

Often, we watch the beards disappear as the cold weather goes into a recession period. The three sum...