Yesterday saw the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week, a time when families across the world can commemorate the all-too-brief lives of their babies, knowing that thousands of others will be doing the same.
Headed by the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, the week crucially provides an opportunity for people to talk openly about the subject and raise awareness of baby loss, which currently affects up to one in five families in the UK.
Many may be surprised to learn that the UK is still way behind many other European countries who are doing a better job of reducing the number of stillbirths.
As specialists in supporting families who have suffered the loss of a baby due to poor care during pregnancy and birth, we at Hudgell Solicitors are passionate in our belief that much more must be done to reduce this level of avoidable deaths and to better support families afterwards when things have gone wrong.
A recent global study, led by a scientist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found over two and a half million babies were stillborn last year – that’s over 7,000 a day.
Research by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) also claimed between 500 and 800 babies die or acquire severe brain injuries due to something going wrong during labour each year in the UK – that’s more than one a day.
With a current stillbirth rate in the UK of 2.9 per 1,000 births, more than double the number in Iceland and a greater rate than countries such as Poland and even Korea. A great deal of work has to be done.
Errors during pregnancy and childbirth must be fully investigated and understood.
Perhaps the most worrying statistic around stillbirths that the UK’s annual rate of reduction is just 1.4% – 114th globally in terms of reducing the numbers. Not enough is being done quickly enough and this must be addressed at Government level.
As a solicitor who handles many cases involving avoidable stillbirths, it is heart-breaking to sit and discuss with families how things went wrong and why. The families know the clock can never be turned back, but they want answers to questions, lessons to be learned and most importantly, they do not want other families to suffer in the same way.
Work has been done by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to review every stillbirth that occurs during labour in term pregnancies in a bid to identify common risk factors, learn from what went wrong and apply the lessons in maternity units across the country.
This is a positive step and is something which must always happen.
It is why we feel our work in supporting families in investigating errors made during pregnancy, the impact the errors had on the final outcome, and ensuring lessons are learned, is so important.
It is also why my colleague Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp, who also sits as an Assistant Coroner for Oxfordshire, has highlighted the current lack of support for many families in this situation due to outdated laws and why we believe changes are needed.
Stillbirths are devastating events for parents and their families. They are difficult to understand and handle and it can be helpful to discuss feelings and emotions with a GP, a midwife, a health visitor or legal experts.
It is also often very helpful to speak to other parents who have been through the trauma and difficulty of losing a baby.
Sands and the other supporting charities involved in Baby Loss Awareness Week are hoping to break the taboo and make baby loss a much more openly talked about and discussed subject.
At 7pm on Saturday, October 15, people around the world will take part in the global ‘Wave of Light’, in which they light a candle and leave it burning for at least one hour to remember all babies that have died too soon.
Each of those candles lit is not just a reminder of a loved one lost, but also a reminder to all that more must be done to reduce the numbers of babies stillborn.