Stillbirth – Tackling a sensitive issue

Stillbirth is defined as when a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation. Figures released from The Lancet reveal that there are 2.6 million stillbirths worldwide every year.  In the UK, 3.5 births in 1000 are stillbirths. This figure is still one of the worst in Northwest Europe and has remained marginally unchanged since the 1990s.

There is still very little comfort for parents as the causes of stillbirth remain relatively unexplored. According to UK baby charity Tommy’s there has been a lack of medical research into tackling the causes of stillbirth.

Jacqui Clinton, Health Campaigns Director for Tommy’s says: “The most frequently asked question by parents is ‘Why did my baby die?’. As the cause of a baby’s death is often a mystery, no explanation can be given to the bereaved parents. If we don’t understand what causes stillbirth, we cannot get to the root of the problem.”

Sarah* 25, from Bristol experienced a stillbirth at 24 weeks in January 2009. Sarah said: ‘I was only 21 and the baby wasn’t planned. However, I was excited. I was looking forward to being a mother. To have that taken away from me was the most horrific, traumatic experience of my life’. Sarah comments that doctors didn’t take her concerns seriously. She says ‘I had some intuition that something wasn’t right. I was being violently sick almost every day. Yet nothing was done when I mentioned this to doctors.’ Sarah has asked to remain anonymous in this article as she feels there is a stigma attached to stillbirth. She comments: ‘I have a new partner now from the one I feel pregnant with. I want to remain anonymous, as I don’t wish my new partner to find out about the stillbirth. It feels like I’ve somehow failed as a woman and I don’t want that to be in his mind when we begin to consider starting our own family’.

In addressing the problem of stillbirth Tommy’s have outlined three areas that need further research and development: understanding the causes of stillbirth, prevention of stillbirth, and developing care for parents that experience a stillbirth.

The aftercare of a stillbirth is something that concerns Sands, another UK baby charity. In their 2009 survey with parents who had experienced a stillbirth 20% were disappointed with the effort that went into finding out what happened to their child.  Postmortems can help identify the causes of stillbirth and yet according to Sands, postmortem examination rates have fallen to less than 40& of deaths.

Both Sands and Tommy’s believe that with further medical research into the issue of stillbirth can be addressed. Both charities are dedicated to improving stillbirth rates in the UK so that future families will not have the same outcome as Sarah’s.

If you have been affected by a stillbirth or death of a child and would like to speak to someone please contact either Tommy’s or Sands.

If you’d like to read The Lancet research into stillbirth please go here.


*Name changed to protect identity

Photo courtesy of Rude Cactus

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