Stillbirths: why some hospitals seem not to care

Shocking stories of the lack of compassion and care shown to some parents of stillborn babies have been uncovered in a study by Oxford University

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Being taken to room in a maternity ward of crying babies when you have just gone through a stillbirth is the last thing a grieving mum needs.

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But that’s just one of the examples of the kind of insensitivity some parents say they have experienced following stillbirth, according to Oxford University’s Listening to Parents study.

The report, presented to the Royal Society of Medicine, pulls together the findings of a survey of 720 women whose babies were stillborn and who were asked about their experience of maternity care.

“The death of a baby obviously has a huge impact,” says the report’s author Dr Maggie Redshaw of Oxford University’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit. “And the quality of the care parents receive during this period – the kindness and respect they are shown – can have profound effects.

“There are families that say: ‘We were looked after in the best possible way when the very worst had happened’. But there are others who have described care which is not good enough and we know that this can be devastating for parents who are already suffering.”

The report paints a picture of the quality of care after stillbirth being pretty much a lottery. While some say they’re treated with the utmost compassion, others describe:

  • Being told a stillbirth was “just one of those things”. 
  • Being taken, after the stillbirth, to a room or ward within earshot of healthy, crying babies.
  • Not being listened too during what was often a difficult and traumatic labour – and their concerns not being taken seriously.

So what can be done to ensure all parents of stillborn babies are treated more compassionately?

Dr Redshaw says she now hopes that all NHS trusts and individual members of staff will “look at their services… and take steps to improve the care they provide for women and their families affected by the death of a baby”.

And it seems that Parliament is taking the issue more seriously, with a recent Westminster debate seeing Tracey Crouch MP highlight the need to be “very clear about the hospital bereavement services and support that people receive”.

“One of the best ways to accomplish good care is to create the job specification of bereavement midwives within the NHS,” she says. “[This would], I believe, ensure the best possible mental health of, and support for, parents whose babies die before, during or shortly after birth.”

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