October is known for cool mornings and changing leaves, but with it comes an annual reminder that many women deal with, the loss of a pregnancy or infant.
The moment you hear the words "you're pregnant," everything changes. Sometimes it can take the reality check of birth before it finally sets in, but motherhood starts in pregnancy. Whether it's the flood of hormones, your body goes through or changing your diet to avoid anything that may harm your unborn child. A mother's responsibility begins when she is carrying her child, and during the month of October, we remember all of the mothers who have suffered from the loss of a child. During pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, providers, parents, and advocates honor the babies gone too soon and work diligently to bring awareness to this devastating reality many families face.
What is Infant Loss?
The loss of a child is tragic, no matter the cause. Infant deaths could be particularly tragic, especially if you were unaware of any issues before labor. While the causes may vary, miscarriages, stillbirths, and other medical conditions can cause a pregnancy to end before or during birth. In other cases, some infants pass away from premature birth, health conditions, and other congenital disabilities shortly after birth. The trauma that this causes for parents and siblings is indescribable.
Pregnancy and Infant loss are extremely common. In fact, it affects 1 in 4 women. Non-Hispanic Black women and American Indian/Alaska Native women are twice as likely to experience stillbirth compared to Non-Hispanic Whites, Asian or Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics. With information like this readily available by the Centers for Disease Control, you would think more people would be aware and mindful of this. National holidays in this country still struggle to include moms who may have lost their child during pregnancy or shortly after.
What Can Be Done?
Socioeconomic factors and the quality of maternal health care play a huge role in the disparities in maternal and infant deaths. It is essential that we adequately staff and fund low-income prenatal care as well as educational programming aimed at targeting first-time parents.
Specifically, IMPROVE or Implementing a Maternal health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone is an initiative supported by multiple National Institute of Health and the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health. IMPROVE aims to help improve health outcomes for pregnant women across the country. They intend to do this by researching heart disease, bleeding disorders, and infections which are the leading causes of U.S. maternal deaths. They are also researching contributing conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, mental health disorders, and substance use disorders, that may contribute to pregnancy loss or infant death.
It Takes a Village
Together we can work to find cures through research and expand prenatal care access for all mothers. Another example of how communities can help would be providing access to support groups for families who are living through this devastating loss.
Breastmilk jewelry can be a thoughtful way to commemorate the life lost. Companies mix milk and resin to create unique necklaces and bracelets that hold sweet memories. Many people use the jewelry to acknowledge a past pregnancy loss or spark conversation about loss. Other items such as placenta or dried flowers can also be included in your design as representations of the child lost.
It is crucial to address the emotional needs of the families involved. These programs provide grief therapy and social support through the pain. If you are looking for resources to help a loved one or a friend through pregnancy and infant loss, I recommend an article that can help you with simple Do's and Dont's.