Understanding the loss of a baby as Sheffield set to host international stillbirth conference
Sheffield is at the forefront in research into the causes and prevention of miscarriage and in the quality of care provided to women experiencing a stillbirth.
In two years’ time, we will be proud to be hosting the International Stillbirth Alliance Conference on 30 June, 1 and 2 July 2023 in Sheffield Colleagues from Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, University of Sheffield, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Sheffield Council will come together to host this event which will have a positive impact on families in the future. This is our chance to bring together professionals from across the world to share best practice, research and ways of working which can support not only families in Sheffield but across the world.
The conference, supported by The Royal College of Pathologists, the Medical Women’s Federation, SANDS, Tommy’s, the British Institute of Radiology, and the Royal College of Midwifery will focus on topics including addressing and reducing inequity; advocacy and the importance of parent’s voices; overcoming stigma; recognising grief & bereavement and emerging research. There will also be a focus on learning lessons to improve our understanding of causes and how this feeds into stillbirth prediction and prevention.
The gathering of professionals like this will have an impact in the future for families, best practice will be shared around how we can work to avoid stillbirths or support those families better who have experienced a loss. We look forward to welcoming the International Stillbirth Alliance to Sheffield in 2023 and encouraging more discussion, learning and research.
Stillbirth is said to occur when a baby is born with no signs of life after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This tragedy affects approximately one in every 200 births in England. If the baby dies before 24 completed weeks, it is known as a miscarriage or late fetal loss. There are multiple causes of stillbirths and good quality pregnancy care helps to reduce its incidence. Once a miscarriage occurs, a team of people from different specialities investigate what has happened and work to understand how to prevent it.
Current guidelines and healthcare practice focuses on improving how people can spot the risk factors associated with a higher rate of stillbirth. Healthcare professionals also routinely monitor for conditions such as the slowing of fetal growth and restricted growth, pregnant people getting diabetes (gestational diabetes), infection of the amniotic fluid (chorioamnionitis) and pregnancy induced hypertension (pre-eclampsia/eclampsia), amongst others.
Renowned researcher Felicity Jensz, a historian from the University of Münster in Germany, wrote about the silences and taboos that surround fetal loss. She noted that in the twenty-first century, fetal loss has been associated with “pronounced emotional responses, such as anxiety, depression, denial, anger, marital disruption, and a sense of loss and inadequacy.”
Parents grieving the loss of their unborn baby do so in their own unique way and factors such as social support have a positive influence on how bereaved parents cope. Cultural factors may also play a role in how the emotions provoked by the baby’s loss are accepted. In recent research focusing on the social and cultural factors associated with perinatal grief in India, the authors highlighted that some societies consider grieving for a stillbirth unacceptable, and that experiencing a stillbirth can result in social isolation. In some cases, women have been found to experience delayed grief for stillbirths 20 years later.
The past decades have witnessed a significant improvement in the quality of care provided to families experiencing a stillbirth. However, there is always room to improve.
Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research recently called for better miscarriage care. Tommy’s plea is for long term mental health support to both parents and for professional help to be offered after every loss.