Doctors told to cut the jargon with grieving parents

MORE than 30 precious little Clarence Valley souls lost their lives in just 12 months.

Grieving mums and dads are facing extra pressure from prevailing community and medical attitudes toward miscarriage and stillbirth.

Special APN research reveals 36 babies died as a result of miscarriage at public hospitals in Grafton and Maclean last financial year. There were no stillbirths reported in the region over the year.

Every year, about 106,000 Australian families experience reproductive loss.

Across the nation, about 103,000 deaths occur during early pregnancy, about 2250 babies are stillborn and about 750 babies die in the 28 days after birth.

Infant mortality experts say the community and health professionals need to reconsider how they talk to grieving parents.

Maternity care researcher Yvette Miller said many women she surveyed were traumatised when doctors, nurses and midwives used medical language to describe how and why babies died.

"Mostly they said the professionals were kind and sensitive but ... there were particular things people did that made it more difficult for them," the Queensland University of Technology associate professor said.

"Some of these included applying medical conventions to describe the loss rather than seeing it from the woman's perspective, which is the loss of this prospective baby, this member of their family.

"They used language that was very medical and didn't actually fit with their experience and that made them quite confused as well.

"For example 'all I remember the doctor saying to us is it is not compatible with life' - what does that mean to the parent?"

Obstetrics expert David Ellwood said a shift in attitudes was needed.

"People who have experienced miscarriage get quite offended that it's not necessarily considered to be as serious a loss of a baby as a stillbirth is," the Griffith University obstetrics and gynaecology professor said.

"People do recover and move on but I think there has been a lack of appreciation until fairly recently about how much of an impact (pre-natal loss and stillbirth) has and how long term it is."

Mr Ellwood said governments should provide more support for grieving mums and dads.

"A lot of the support is actually done by parents themselves - its pro-bono support through volunteer networks and that's great, but sometimes professional support is required and that can be expensive," he said.

Lyndy Bowden, who heads Australia's key support group for parents who have lost a child during or straight after pregnancy, said people needed to reconsider their choice of words when speaking to bereaved families.

"People are really trying to do the best they can but offering up comments like 'it's OK you'll have another one' or 'this wasn't meant to be' can be really hurtful," the Sands Australia national council chairwoman said.

"When you lose a baby you have your own guilt ... without people saying this." People affected by the loss of a baby can phone Sands Australia on 1300 072 637 or visit http://www.sands.org.au.



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