More needs to be done to support women coping with pregancy loss

Health professionals need to be better trained in helping couples to cope with the loss of their baby.

Doctor support

Tommy's blog, September 2016

Since our #misCOURAGE campaign launched last year and encouraged women to share their experience of baby loss, Tommy’s have been shocked to see the amount of women who report receiving poor aftercare following a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Losing a baby at any stage of pregnancy can be a devastating experience and leave women extremely vulnerable. Aside from the physical symptoms of pregnancy that can continue even after the baby is lost, many women experience depression and other mental health problems.

“I had thrown myself in this big black hole and didn't want to come out. I spent nearly two years feeling so low and depressed that I no longer wanted to carry on living my life, the one thing I wanted so much was gone in a heartbeat.” Claire Burdett, #misCOURAGE story.

Many women experience similar symptoms to Claire after losing their baby but report experiencing little aftercare or sympathy from medical professionals. Several of the women who have shared their stories of #misCOURAGE even report being asked why they were upset,

“Overcome with various emotions I was understandably upset when the nurse turned to me and asked ‘why are you crying?’ I had to walk away…how could anyone in that profession have so little compassion?”  Tammy, Book of #misCOURAGE

Questions like this can lead to women feeling their grief is unjustified and make them unwilling to seek out the support they may need.

Similarly disappointing is Stacey Lebond’s revelation that she was actually refused counselling by her GP after the stillbirth of her son Tobias as it was still “early days” and she was told she would get over it.

Baby loss is not only extremely emotional, it can also be very lonely. Sadly, 67% of women Tommy’s asked said that they felt they couldn’t even talk to their best friends about their loss. This makes it even more important that medical professionals who have access to women right after they lose their baby realise the impact that bottling up grief and trauma can have on women after loss.

Tommy’s CEO Jane Brewin says that the silence around baby loss means many women who have lost babies harbour unexpressed feeling of failure, isolation and guilt which can have a seriously detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing.

“There is growing evidence that women experiencing miscarriage suffer both physical pain and often suffer psychological damage – women and their families have always known this but have often been ignored or treated inappropriately by some health professionals – it’s time to change and really consider how best to help women through the miscarriage experience and afterwards as they come to terms with their loss. It makes the current guidelines where women need to demonstrate they have had three miscarriages before being  referred for further investigation, seem needlessly harsh and this needs urgent review. Tommy’s commitment is to try and ensure women do receive the best care and that we move closer to finding out why miscarriages happen so that we can prevent them in the first place.”

Doctors and nurses need to be aware of how traumatic the loss of a baby can be and respond with appropriate sensitivity. They also need to be conscious of the possibility for mental illness in grieving mothers and be able to advise appropriate support or after care. This could avoid situations where mother’s experience lifelong mental health issues.

Gemma Willson was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and severe anxiety following her unaddressed trauma caused by three miscarriages,

“The lasting effects and my continual mental health issues, surrounding the recurrent miscarriages, could've been prevented had I received proper after care and help following the losses.”

Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage research is currently doing a study into mental health issues, including PTSD, associated with early pregnancy loss and opportunities for support and treatment.

We think it is vital that mental health be given the same attention as physical health in pregnant women and particularly in those who suffer the heartbreak of losing their baby.

If you are struggling to cope after experiencing a stillbirth, click here to read our advice about the next steps to take.

If you have suffered a miscarriage and need more information or support, click here to read how you can access the support you need.

If you want to talk to someone about what you’re going through, our free pregnancy line is manned by midwives trained in bereavement and is available 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday.

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