Providing support to bereaved parents is all about team work. All staff need to know about the loss, the baby’s name and what has happened. Good communication is essential in helping parents make the decisions that are right for them. Information and choices should be given using clear language in small chunks, with clear written backup for parents to read through when they are ready. It helps for information to be given at the relevant time and repeated throughout their stay in hospital to ensure parents have fully understood. Post mortems need to be gone through thoroughly and all decisions parents make should be written down in simple terms for the parents to check through later.
Expressing sorrow, empathy and concern is natural and ok to do so. Just listening and sitting with mums and holding their hand telling them how sorry you are can mean the world to them. But not to the point where they feel they need to comfort you. You can also reassure parents that it’s ok to be emotional and express their feelings as some people can think it’s sociably unacceptable. Gestation is no marker of grief and how a person reacts at losing a baby at 18 weeks could be very similar to someone losing a baby at term. The journey beyond the point of loss is very similar for everyone, regardless of the circumstances.
Parents need a private place to hear and discuss bad news and to be told their various options. A place of privacy is essential for parents to talk about and express their feelings. Being in their own room will enable them to spend as much time with their baby as they wish and to share their grief with their family. Ideally, the room should be situated away from the labour ward and newborn babies.
All decisions, wishes, feelings and fears of the parents should be respected at all times, regardless of religion or culture. The parents will be grateful to be treated as parents, with their baby being addressed by the name they have chosen for him/her. A baby that is stillborn, is still born and therefore should be treated with utmost respect whilst with and away from their parents.
Good physical support should also not be forgotten about as the mother has the same needs as any other mother even though she has no baby to care for. She will need to be advised about breast milk and how to manage the pain and the emotions she will go through during this time. Mums will also need advice on possible stitches and how to recover from a c-section. Postnatal exercises should be addressed along with available support in the local community.
Thank you for all you do to support bereaved parents.
To Sands, the Stillbirth And Neonatal Death Charity