Long-term impact of stillbirth and neonatal death is 'significant' and needs further study, says researchers

More work is needed to understand and reduce the long-term health problems faced by parents who lose a baby at birth or soon afterwards, says researchers.

A survey by Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre found stillbirth or neonatal death had ‘a significant and long-lasting impact’ on bereaved parents’ health, with most experiencing ongoing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The researchers used a standard set of questions to compare the health and wellbeing of parents affected by stillbirth and neonatal death with other groups of people of the same age.

The questions are one way for policymakers to assess how different health problems affect people, looking at the impact of potential treatments or services to prevent them and whether they would be cost-effective for the NHS.

The 256 bereaved parents who took part in the study had lower scores than the general population, on average, indicating their health and quality of life was worse.

The study, published in the European Journal of Health Economics, is the first to measure the impact of perinatal death in this way.

Tommy’s researchers hope their findings will strengthen the case for providing ‘appropriate and tailored support’ following perinatal death, as a way of reducing lasting harm that can leave people needing NHS services for longer or even struggling to work.

Professor Alex Heazell, Director of Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Centre in Manchester, said: 

It’s important that we find the most effective ways to support parents affected by perinatal death, particularly with the mental health difficulties that were so prevalent among those who took part in our survey.

We need more research involving more people to help us find out how losing a baby at birth or soon afterwards can affect parents’ long-term health.

We also need to invest in research to find ways to prevent perinatal death, to save babies’ lives and spare parents from this type of devastating bereavement.

Kate Davies, Research, Policy and Information Director of Tommy’s, said: 

This research is a vital reminder that parents who have been through the trauma of losing a baby need expert support and care at the right time.

Tommy’s Rainbow Clinics are leading the way in providing the care and support parents need in pregnancy after loss, because we know that becoming pregnant after a stillbirth or neonatal death is an immensely daunting prospect.

We need to make sure that everyone affected by perinatal loss has access to the services they need, no matter where they are on that extraordinarily painful journey.