June is Stillbirth And Neonatal Death awareness month, so I thought I would write a post to raise awareness and show support to those who have experienced such a heartbreaking loss. Losing a baby is so very difficult and for many of us, unimaginable. However, there are also many people who have sadly experienced that pain and no words will ever be able to describe that feeling. Therefore, we do not hear it being spoken about as often as we should.
Stillbirth – The death of a baby before or during birth, after 24 weeks of gestation in the UK (The World Health Organisations definition states after 28 weeks)
Neonatal Death – The death of a baby within the first 28 days of life.
Perinatal Mortality – Stillbirths plus early neonatal deaths (under 7 days old)
Stillbirth Rate – The number of stillbirths per 1000 total births.
Low Birth Weight – A baby weighing under 2500 grams (5lb 5oz)
There are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of having a stillbirth or neonatal death, however, many of these are out of the mother’s control and therefore it is not the mother’s fault that their baby did not survive.
Thousands of women who experience stillbirth or neonatal death tend to blame themselves, wondering what they did wrong or what they could have done better to protect their unborn child, when in fact there isn’t anything that they could have done, they did nothing wrong, they could not have known that such a heartbreaking event would occur. There is support out there for parents who have lost a child, stillborn, neonatal deaths and miscarriages.
Some Risk Factors:
Fetal growth restriction is the biggest risk factor for stillbirths. Studies have found that stillbirths in England show the risk to be significantly higher when growth restriction has not been detected antenatally; suggesting that this is a very important avenue for reducing stillbirth rates in future. Encouraging specialists to monitor the growth of unborn babies more closely.
Preterm Birth is the biggest risk factor for neonatal death. Neonatal care and obstetric care have a huge impact on the death rates of preterm babies. For example, giving antenatal steroids to women who are in preterm labour and providing advanced neonatal intensive care.
The age of the mother can also be a risk factor. The rate of neonatal death is higher in women under the age of 25 and women who are 40 or over. In the UK, women over the age of 40 are 1.3 times more likely to experience neonatal death compared to women between the ages of 25 and 29. Stillbirths increase with advancing maternal age, the rate increases from 4.6 in 25 to 29-year-olds to 7.6 for those over the age of 40.
The overall health of the mother can also play a part. For example, if the mother is obese during pregnancy, the risk of having a neonatal death or a stillbirth increases significantly. It can be as high as double, compared to women who are of a healthy weight.
If the mother smokes or abuses substances, they are also at an increased risk.
Chronic illnesses, infections and a history of mental health problems can also increase the risk of stillbirths or neonatal deaths.
When carrying more than one child, the risk is also higher in comparison to singleton pregnancies.
There are many charities out there to help support parents who have sadly lost a child, there are support groups and therapies available, please never feel as though you cannot talk about your loss. No matter how old the child was when they passed, they are important, they are valuable, they matter and you have every right to talk about them and the heartbreaking event. If you need help, speak with your GP or midwife and they will be able to point you in the right direction for the support that you need and deserve.