This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week in the UK. Each year, from 9-15 October, bereaved parents can commemorate their babies’ all-too-brief lives, knowing that thousands of parents elsewhere in the world will be doing the same. Baby Loss Awareness Week also provides a crucial opportunity for people to talk openly about this subject, so that awareness is raised across society and bereaved mums and dads feel less alone, and less isolated by their grief.
October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day across the world. We would like to invite you to take part in the global ‘Wave of Light’. Simply light a candle at 7pm and leave it burning for at least 1 hour to join us in remembering all babies that have died during pregnancy, at, during or after birth. This can be done individually or in a group, at home or in a communal space. Wherever you do this, you will be joining a global wave of light in memory of all the babies who lit up our lives for such a short time.
You may be shocked to read that 17 babies die every single day in the UK. 11 are stillborn, and 6 die within the first 28 days of life. Stillbirth is more common than death in a road traffic accident and is 15 times more common than cot death. Yet it is something you are very unlikely to read about in your newspaper or see featured on your TV, unless it happens to someone in the public eye. Many people think stillbirths simply don’t happen in the 21st century, yet thousands of families are devastated by the death of their baby every year.
I’m Carolyn Bray, Fundraising Manager at Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity for this and I am also a bereaved parent, and I believe this unacceptable number of baby deaths must change. Some stillbirths and early deaths are sadly unavoidable but there is evidence that a significant number of these tragic deaths might be prevented.
The methods used to assess the health of a baby during a pregnancy have remained largely unchanged over the last 30 years. That’s why Sands is currently supporting an important, and potentially life-saving, research project based at Cambridge University, investigating whether a third trimester ultrasound scan could detect the likelihood of stillbirth.
As you may be aware, if a woman’s pregnancy is considered to be ‘low-risk’ she will currently receive a dating scan at 12 weeks and then an anomaly scan at 20 weeks. After that the baby’s growth will be monitored through what is known as a fundal height measurement. The midwife will measure the size of the uterus, using a tape measure, to determine whether or not the baby is growing as expected. A baby whose growth is poor is at a higher risk of illness and stillbirth. However, this method, which has been used for decades, sadly fails to pick up on the majority of babies at risk of stillbirth. The majority of unexplained stillbirths are in pregnancies considered low risk – our research could help explain why this happens. Many parents whose baby dies close to term say that they would like to have had more scans to see if anything could have been detected. However, for the NHS to introduce third trimester scanning, we need to provide them with the statistical proof that it is needed.
Our research project will be analysing data collected from 4,000 first time mothers.
The researchers will assess a range of information from blood, chromosome and DNA tests to determine what the differences are between women who go on to have a healthy baby and women who have a stillbirth.
And if doctors and health professionals are able to see indicators for stillbirth on third trimester scans, they could potentially be able to address some of the medical issues that might come up. For instance, if they see a baby is in trouble they could perform a caesarean section in cases where the baby would stand a better chance on a ventilator.
Ultimately, this research could save precious young lives.
Sadly, research into stillbirth and neonatal death (within the first 28 days of a baby’s life) has not received anything like the funding and support it merits – especially when compared with other areas. For instance, millions of pounds were spent developing a test to detect Down’s Syndrome during pregnancy. This is, of course, very welcome, yet Down’s Syndrome is far less common than stillbirth and thanks to research the rates of cot death, which as I mentioned earlier, is ten times less common than stillbirth, have been reduced by 70 per cent over the last 30 years.
What these figures prove is that when money and resources are invested, research can find solutions to medical problems that were previously thought to be unsolvable or somehow ‘natural’.
To find out more about the work of Sands, or to make a donation, visit www.uk-sands.org
National helpline: 0207 436 5881 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.