‘How lovely’ is often the reply when I say I am a midwife; ‘a chance to cuddle babies!’ they often add. While I agree that this is definitely a bonus, I don’t often mention the other side of my job: the privilege of also caring for mothers who don’t get to cuddle or take their baby home.
Death of a baby whether a stillbirth or neonatal death is upsetting for the healthcare professionals involved and must be unbelievably difficult for the parents concerned. The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity have calculated that 17 new families a day in the UK are grieving. The UK actually has one of the highest stillbirth rates in the developed world.
Some of the risk factors contributing towards stillbirths and early neonatal deaths are known including intra-uterine growth restriction, poverty, infection and maternal medical conditions. However, there is still a raft of information even about the known risk factors that are not understood well, making further research into the cause and prevention of stillbirths a pressing need.
In addition, we as healthcare professionals still have lots to learn about how and what we communicate from current research to pregnant women. Women must be able to look after themselves and their unborn babies as well as understand what warning signs to look out for (such as reduced or absent fetal movements).
Effective, research-based care will be what reduces our stillbirth rates. Here in the West Midlands this rate has reduced year on year. This is considered to be as a result of a multi-disciplinary approach to identifying intra-uterine growth restricted babies; arguably one of the most significant risk factors in stillbirth. That’s finally some good news.