There are many sensitive subjects that are considered 'taboo'; personal circumstances that we just aren't supposed to talk about in polite society in case other people are offended. In some cases you can appreciate this being the way of things, but a lot of the time there are benefits to talking about these taboo subjects in a constructive manner, and I want to talk about one of them now.
Baby loss is, thankfully, an alien experience for the majority of people, but it is still the case that thousands of families are affected by it every year and it is more common than you might think. Over 5700 babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth each year in the UK, that's over 100 every week, with each one being a hugely traumatic experience for parents, siblings, and extended family. This is not to mention the quarter of a million miscarriages which happen each year, normally before three months of pregnancy but no less devastating for parents losing a much-wanted baby, however early on.
The Lancet medical journal, published in April 2011 showed that the UK stillbirth rates are higher than in almost every other high-income country. The report concluded that a substantial amount of stillbirths are potentially preventable as they occur so close to term. If babies at risk of being stillborn were identified, they could be delivered early, preventing a tragic outcome. I believe the rates are higher in the UK due a lack of awareness. When I was pregnant with my first first son six years ago, I had no idea that so many babies were stillborn in the UK. I thought that as I'd past 12 weeks and then 20 weeks with both scans going well, that I would soon bring my precious child home from the hospital. The shock of being told my baby had died at 37 weeks of pregnancy can't be described and my firstborn son will always be part of our family even though he is now in Heaven.
9-15 October is Baby Loss Awareness Week, and if you spend any time on social media, the chances are you will see at least one of your friends mention it. In fact, it may surprise you to learn how many of your friends, acquaintances and work colleagues have been directly or indirectly affected by baby loss but have never spoken of it. Of course it is upsetting to hear about, but imagine how difficult it must be to live with the life-changing grief and the memory of it day in day out. It can be extremely cathartic for those who have suffered a loss to be able to talk about their baby, to use their name, to acknowledge their albeit terribly short life and not feel bad for doing it. Some bereaved mums wish they had known what to look out for in case the death of their baby could have been prevented. I, personally, wish I'd been told to monitor my son's movements. If I'd noticed his pattern reduce, I could have called my midwife straight away and had his heartbeat monitored by professionals.
One of the greatest advantages to not sweeping baby loss under the carpet is to raise awareness among pregnant women in a positive way with what they can do personally to increase their chances of a successful pregnancy:
If any of these happen you should contact your midwifery unit straight away. Don't wait until the next day if:
- Your baby's movements slow down or change.
- You have bleeding from the vagina
- You have itching, even mildly (particularly on the hands and feet, but other areas of the body may be affected too). This could be a sign of a liver disorder called Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP, also called Obstetric Cholestasis)
- You have watery, clear or coloured discharge that seems abnormal for you.
- You have signs of pre-eclampsia.
Know the signs of pre-eclampsia. Report any of these changes straight away if you experience:
- Obvious swelling, especially affecting the hands and face or upper body
- Severe headache that won't go away, sometimes with vomiting
- Problems with vision (blurring, flashing lights or spots difficulty in focussing)
- Severe pain just below the ribs in the middle of your abdomen.
Did you know babies should not move less towards the end of pregnancy? If you think your baby's movements have reduced, call your maternity unit straight away. Don't wait to see what happens. You should be asked to go in for assessment.
Don't rely on hand-held monitors, Dopplers or phone apps to check your baby's heartbeat. They don't always give a true picture of your baby's health and you may be falsely reassured.
Eat for you - not for two. Try to swap unhealthy foods for healthier options and keep active. If you are overweight, don't try to lose weight but eat healthily and stay active.
Do you smoke? Stopping at any time in pregnancy will help give your baby the best start in life. The sooner you can stop, the better. Visit the MAMA website for support services.
Confused about drinking? The safest way to ensure your baby isn't affected by alcohol is to not drink while you're pregnant. If you are finding it hard to stop, ask for help from your midwife or GP.
Attend all your antenatal appointments to help your midwife identify any potential problems that may need treating. You will then receive key information as your pregnancy progresses.
Don't be afraid to tell your midwife if you have taken street drugs or other substances. It will be treated in confidence. The more she knows about your general health, the better she'll be able to help you and your baby.
Don't forget to book your free flu jab. It's safe to have at any stage of pregnancy and some protection is passed onto your baby which lasts for the first few months of their life.
Have a safer pregnancy by avoiding contact with people with infectious illnesses, including diarrhoea, sickness, chickenpox or slapped cheek. If you have been in contact with someone with an infection, speak to your midwife or GP for advice.
Avoid infection. Wash your hands properly before and after handling food, before and after going to the toilet and after sneezing and blowing your nose.
Foods to avoid while pregnant:
- Soft mould-ripened and soft blue veined cheeses
- Raw or undercooked shellfish, meat and eggs
- Vitamin A supplements i.e fish liver oils
- Liver and products that contain liver such as pate
- Raw fruit and veg that haven't been washed
Write the number of your maternity unit on your MAMA Wellbeing Wallet so it's always handy. It's not an emergency number, but a number for you to use if you notice a change in your health or pregnancy.
For more information on how to have a safer pregnancy, please visit www.mamaacademy.org.uk