23 Sep 2019

More support needed for women who lose premature babies

7:39 pm on 23 September 2019

There are calls for more support for mothers whose premature babies die, after one mother described being told to take her dead baby home and keep him in the fridge.

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Photo: 123rf

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Those who work with bereaved parents say more needs to be done to help them and are calling for a national bereavement strategy.

The latest report of the Perinatal and Maternity Mortality Review Committee said the stillbirth rate had reduced since 2007 for both Māori and New Zealand European mothers.

Rates for Indian and Pacific mothers remained significantly higher.

One Indian mother, who did not want to be named, had lost two babies.

She gave birth to her first baby in a toilet at Wellington Hospital in 2008, when he was 17 weeks.

She said she was left sitting there for 30 minutes before anyone came to help.

"She [the nurse] came in a while later with our baby in one of those disposable foil oven roaster dishes, those really small sized ones.

"That was really difficult to see, like something your dinner would have come in... and they bring you your baby."

She says she didn't know what to do next.

"He was perfectly formed, he was just so early, like you know, little fingers, little toes and everything.

"When we asked what we could do, they said the hospital could dispose of him for us.

"We took him home, they told us to keep him in the fridge, and we just had a bag of ice underneath him, and just had to keep changing the ice regularly or putting him in the fridge.

"I couldn't put him in the fridge," she said.

All the support she was offered was a pamphlet about a support group in Auckland, the opposite end of the country.

Since then things had improved and six years later when she lost her second baby at 22 weeks, staff handled it much better, she said.

The woman also found the Stillbirth and New-born Death Support Group - or SANDS - a volunteer group which is run by bereaved parents.

Its chair, Melanie Tarrant, said the meagre funding it received did not match the demand for its services with referrals from DHBs, social workers and the courts.

"There are inconsistencies in the bereavement care that parents receive, so if we could get a minimum standard of care for all bereaved parents that would be fantastic.

"There are SANDS groups around New Zealand but we are not in all places, so for example in Taranaki they've got a fantastic SANDS group and they do casting and support, but if you go down to Invercargill there isn't a SANDS group," said Ms Tarrant.

The chair of the Perinatal and Maternity Mortality Review Committee, Dr John Tait, was also calling for a national strategy including funding of specific maternal mental health services.

He was frustrated these had not been put in place already and said the Ministry of Health needed to start adopting the recommendations.

"One of the frustrations we have as PMMRC is that we do make recommendations, and often these recommendations are not followed through.

He said only 60 percent of the recommendations have been implemented.

"There is sort of a disconnect between our recommendations and the recommendations being implemented and we would really like that looked at," he said.

The committee also wanted mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid to reduce preventable death and serious illness from neural tube defects.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it would adopt the report's recommendations, but it pointed the blame at the DHBs and said they were the ones who should be providing support to bereaved parents.

The Ministry acknowledged there was more work to be done to ensure midwives were supported and services were available to meet the needs of whānau, women, and babies.

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