Baby Loss Awareness Week: Addressing shocking statistics for baby deaths in BAME communities

13th October 2020 Clinical Negligence

Amidst the global pandemic of 2020, this year’s Baby Loss Awareness Week (BLAW) is more important than ever to help address the loneliness and isolation bereaved parents feel.

Social distancing measures have made going through something as tragic as the death of a baby all the more difficult, but the charities involved in BLAW, such as Tommy’s and Sands provide invaluable support.

However, today (Tuesday 13 October) BLAW is focusing specifically on the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.

Sadly, I have worked with too many families, BAME and otherwise, who have suffered the loss of a baby, either before or after birth.  Miscarriage, stillbirth and the death of babies in the neonatal period is more common than you may think.

My clients’ babies have died for different reasons and in different circumstances, but what was common to them all is not only their grief but also the lack of understanding and support they received and how abandoned they felt.

Many of them spoke about being rushed out of the hospital as quickly as possible, with no one looking them in the eye let alone offering advice, help or support. They told me that afterwards they found it difficult to see and socialise with, let alone talk to, family and friends. Many suffer a psychological illness as a result of what they have been through.

The reason I want specifically to talk about bereaved BAME parents is because BAME babies have an increased risk of dying in this country and so there are a lot of bereaved BAME parents trying to cope with their loss.

The Mothers and Babies Reducing Risk through audits and confidential enquiries (MBBRACE) report highlighted that black babies have a 121% increased risk for stillbirth and a 50% increased risk of neonatal death compared to white babies. Asian babies have 55% increased risk of stillbirth and 66% risk of neonatal death.

Some of reasons for these shocking statistics were identified as poverty, inadequate use of antenatal care and symptoms being dismissed as just being normal pregnancy symptoms when they are in fact more concerning.

The lack of support services in the community in this country tends to be amplified in BAME communities who often live in areas of social deprivation. I feel that the lack of services, and difficulty accessing services, impacts on both parents-to-be and bereaved parents after delivery. Prior to delivery they struggle to access antenatal services, often not knowing when and where to turn for support and after delivery there is little access to information and counselling.

Many of my BAME clients report not being listened to when they raise concerns. Their reports of pain, bleeding and of their baby not moving are dismissed. I believe this failure to listen to them when their baby is alive must impact on their willingness and ability to talk and seek support and advice after delivery.

For some, the language barrier is a big issue in terms of getting support. In my experience, little effort is made to overcome this barrier and so bereaved parents are left with little understanding of what has gone wrong and where they can turn for support.

I know from talking to bereaved parents that often the father feels they have to be strong for their partner. I think this is even more so in some BAME communities where culturally men are still expected to be the strong member of the family and as a result cannot express how they really feel. They are often left to suffer alone.

My experience leads me to believe that opportunities to support families are being missed before they leave hospitals or midwifery units after birth.

I would like all hospitals to have specialist bereavement services. It would be great to see support, such as that offered by Tommy’s,  provided to all bereaved parentsI would like to see training put in place for those staff who are caring for families whose baby has died. For example, Sands has launched a campaign called Finding the Words

I also think offering support while in hospital, before the families find it too difficult to seek it and become isolated in the community where services are lacking, is important. Obviously, ideally there would be follow up and support after discharge but getting it right in hospital would be a first step.

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Suleikha Ali is an Associate located in Londonin our Clinical Negligence department

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