9-15 October is a week dedicated to marking the lives of babies who have died before, during, and after birth, as well as in infancy.

Losing a baby is something which many of us fear most, but it is also not a topic which is openly discussed. Bereaved parents may experience feelings of guilt, anger, or shock, or simply feel numb. Others may begin to struggle with poor mental health, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (‘PTSD’), and/or chronic anxiety.  

This week is about breaking the silence around how devastating and life-changing bereavement can be for parents and loved ones, and trying to connect those who are grieving with organisations who can help them come to terms with what has happened. 

Some types of baby loss

Miscarriage

Miscarriage is the death of a baby during the first 23 weeks/5 months of pregnancy. Around 3 in 4 miscarriages occur within the first trimester (months 1-3). 

There are various medical risk factors which can increase the risk of miscarriage, including diabetes (if poorly controlled), very high blood pressure, lupus, kidney disease, and irregular thyroid glands.  If a woman is identified as being at risk of miscarriage, special attention should be paid by the antenatal team and the pregnancy should be monitored closely.

There are common misconceptions that miscarriages can be caused by factors such as stress, depression, sex, working during pregnancy, and even eating spicy food; however none of these have been proven to increase risk of miscarriage. 

Stillbirth

Stillbirth occurs in around 1 in 200 births in England. Often the cause isn’t known and stillbirths cannot always be prevented

The mother and baby’s health should be monitored during pregnancy in order that any concerns can be identified early and treated. Blood pressure and urine tests should be offered at antenatal appointments to monitor the baby’s development, and any unusual results should be flagged up (such as elevated protein in the urine, indicating pre-eclampsia) and the baby’s growth should be charted. Midwives should advise mothers about signs to be aware of, such as reduced fetal movement, and when they should seek help.

If stillbirth has occurred, the mother may have to wait for natural birth to begin, or labour may be induced. Therefore, many mothers go through the final stages of pregnancy and undergo labour knowing that their baby will be born dead, which is a devastating and harrowing experience.

When somebody experiences the loss of a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth, a specialist midwife will usually be called to talk to the bereaved parents about their wishes. This may include holding the baby, taking photographs, and creating memory items (such as pendants and footprint moulds).

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) 

SIDS is also known as “cot death” where an infant dies suddenly and unexpectedly, usually within their first 6 months of life. Around 200 infants die from SIDS each year and babies who were born prematurely are thought to be more at risk.

Not much is known about the causes of SIDS, but the NHS offers advice about steps which can be taken to reduce the risk.

Prevention

During pregnancy, it is advised that you attend your antenatal appointments to ensure that you and your baby are healthy and your baby is developing well. You should also speak to your antenatal team if you are experiencing any unusual baby activity during pregnancy, including less frequent or no baby movement.

Post-birth, the NHS advises that your baby should sleep on their back and that their head is not covered. A ‘feet to foot’ sleeping position is also advised, where the baby’s feet can touch the end of the cot or pram.

Sadly there is still more to be done within clinical practice to reduce preventable baby deaths. Around 76-80% of stillbirths and perinatal deaths investigated have been found to be preventable. Charities such as Baby Lifeline provide training and tools to help maternity healthcare professionals reduce these numbers. http://babylifeline.org.uk/home/  

What to do if you’re worried

Call 111 or speak to your GP or midwife if you have concerns about your baby or pregnancy. 

Support after loss

There are many charities in the UK which offer support to those experiencing the loss of a baby. Below are some examples:

SANDS is the stillbirth and neonatal death charity. Their work includes support services, a free helpline, an online community, and regional support groups run by trained volunteers. https://www.sands.org.uk/ 

Aching Arms is run by bereaved mothers, which offers understanding and support to those who are grieving. They also run a comfort teddy bear scheme, whereby other parents can send a teddy bear to you in memory of your baby. https://achingarms.co.uk/ 

Charlies Child Loss Charity is a service for grieving fathers. They offer men’s-only group sessions, online support, and phone calls. They also provide memory boxes to hospitals. https://charlieschildloss.co.uk/ 

When things go wrong

If you have suffered the loss or injury of a baby, and you think that your care providers may have let you down, we have a national team of lawyers who offer compassionate and confidential legal advice. Many of our lawyers are specialists in baby loss and birth injuries. 

Contact a member of our clinical negligence team on 01865 781000 for a free and confidential discussion.

The Freeths national clinical negligence team is headed by:

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/Milton Keynes/London) - 01865 781019 / carolyn.lowe@freeths.co.uk

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke on Trent/Birmingham) - 0845 274 6830 / karen.reynolds@freeths.co.uk

Jane Williams, Partner (Leicester/Nottingham) - 0845 272 5724 / jane.williams@freeths.co.uk

For further information please also visit our website at: http://www.freeths.co.uk/legal-services/individuals/clinical-negligence/