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In law, neonatal deaths are when babies are born alive (at any stage of pregnancy) but die within the first 28 days of life.
A stillbirth is when a baby shows no signs of life at birth, after the 24th week of pregnancy.
A baby born dead before the 24th week is classed as a miscarriage, even though in many cases the mother will have been through labour and given birth. Everyday in the UK 17 families face the terrible pain, confusion and desolation that the death of a baby can bring. When miscarriages are added, that number rises dramatically. Despite this, bereaved parents are often unaware that it can happen. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, victimhood, anger and despair: “why did this happen to us?” Sometimes there’s a clear medical cause – a genetic abnormality, a malfunctioning placenta or cord or an infection. But often there’s no apparent reason, even after a post-mortem. Having no reason can be especially distressing.
There can be physical effects of grief – it can be exhausting, affect concentration and motivation, cause symptoms such as chest pain and anxiety. It can also affect self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s also true that, very commonly, a baby’s death puts enormous strain on relationships. Couples may grieve differently and this can lead to difficulties or accusations that one or the other doesn’t care, or cares too much.
Answering ‘how do you cope?’ is difficult, precisely because everyone experiences grief differently. Having said that, many people find that:
The loss of a baby is devastating and ‘Saying Goodbye’ provide a service for families who have suffered a miscarriage or the death of a baby. ‘Saying Goodbye’ can help families acknowledge these events, pay tribute to their babies, grieve together as a family and say goodbye. For more information about ‘Saying Goodbye’ please visit their website.
Sands (supporting anyone affected by the death of a baby) is a UK-wide organisation that provides support to anyone affected by the death of a baby during pregnancy, at birth or shortly after. They also work with health professionals to promote good practice and research that could help save babies’ lives.
Sands has a nationwide network of local support groups. The groups are run by volunteers who have lost babies themselves. They offer a safe, non-judgemental environment for bereaved parents to talk about their babies. Many find it comforting to meet with others who’ve had similar experiences and share their stories, and Sands can help put you in touch with a local group. The helpline staff can send you literature and provide practical advice as well as giving emotional support or putting you in touch with a local volunteer befriender.