CAROLINE and Jonathan Morgan know only too well the agony of having a stillborn baby.
And they hope a new report will persuade the Welsh Government to do more to raise awareness of the issue among expectant parents and medical professionals.
The couple, from Pennard Close, Newport, lost daughter Anabelle 32 weeks into Mrs Morgan’s pregnancy in June 2010, their shock and grief compounded by there having been nothing to indicate beforehand that anything was wrong.
Sadly, the Morgans are far from alone in enduring such an ordeal. There are an average of four stillbirths a week in Wales, with the number severalfold higher UK-wide.
Yet while medical advances have improved premature baby survival rates, and more knowledge and awareness has reduced the incidence of cot death, the stillbirth rate has remained largely unchanged for more than 20 years.
“It’s very difficult and something you never really come to terms with,” said Mrs Morgan, 27, who said the first indication that something was wrong was when she did not feel her baby move for several hours before she and her husband went to hospital, where their worst fears were confirmed.
“There was no discussion about stillbirth when I was pregnant and I think you can be lured into a sense of false security, especially after the first few weeks with the risk of miscarriage,” said Mrs Morgan.
“Something must be done to raise awareness, and to try to find out more about stillbirth and why it occurs.”
The National Asembly for Wales’ health and social services committee held a one-day inquiry into stillbirth, and it calls, in a report published today, for the Welsh Government to raise awareness of what is described as the nation’s most common form of child mortality.
Committee chairman Mark Drakeford said more is known about cot death, child road accidents and childhood meningitis, and stillbirth needs to be addressed between health professionals and expectant parents “openly and explicitly”.
“Its scale is so much greater than topics far more in the public mind,” he said.
The committee calls the current rate of stillbirths unacceptable, with more needing to be done to understand underlying causes, with more than half classed as unexplained.
The report makes nine recommendations to the Welsh Government, with raising awareness of the risks and new research top of the agenda. A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The Welsh Government is working with the NHS to reduce the stillbirth rate, and as part of this we will consider the findings of the inquiry. The National Stillbirth Working Group is working as part of the Welsh Initiative for Stillbirth Reduction (WISR) to improve outcomes in pregnancy.
“Smoking during pregnancy and maternal obesity are avoidable risk factors, and these are being addressed via the Strategic Vision for Maternity Services in Wales.”
Factfile – SANDS
SANDS, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society, has campaigned for greater awareness of stillbirths for five years.
The charity, with more than 30 years’ experience of supporting bereaved parents across the UK, welcomed the committee’s report.
“We have long argued that the tragic and unexplained death of a baby near its due date is preventable and not unavoidable,” said a spokesman.
“This report is wideranging and sensible, recognising there is no single golden bullet to bring down the unacceptably high number of stillbirths in Wales.
“It will, as the report outlines, require a strategy that includes increased public health awareness, better training for health professionals and more funding for research.”
Women are travelling to get specialist advice
AROUND 300 women a year go from Gwent to Bristol to see a pregnancy specialist, a leading specialist said.
The report says the committee found evidence that the cost of seeking consultations outside Wales exceeds the cost of providing it in Wales, and calls for the Welsh Government to investigate.
Cardiff-based Dr Bryan Beattie, one of only two foetal medicine consultants in Wales, said Gwent patients tend to go to Bristol as services provided at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, cannot cope.
“It’s a very disjointed service there, because they might go to Bristol for some antenatal input into their care, but it might need to deliver at UHW,” he said.
“One of the things we would like to pursue in the long term is to try to boost the foetal medicine service in Cardiff to look after South Wales.”