Bereavement and childbirth
The death of a baby, at whatever stage, is profoundly saddening, all the more so because the baby's death is often very sudden. Whether the mother suffers a miscarriage, a stillbirth or the sudden death of an infant, both she and her partner are left with deep feelings of grief and sometimes guilt.
Here, we look at the services available to you in Ireland if you have had a miscarriage or a stillbirth, or have lost your baby through Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Neonatal Death
A miscarriage can occur at any stage of a pregnancy, up until 24 weeks. The loss of a baby after 24 weeks gestation is referred to as a stillbirth. When a baby lives for only a few hours or days after birth his/her death is referred to as a neonatal death.
Miscarriage often occurs with no warning, and often no medical reason can be found why it happened. This can be very distressing - your loss can appear to have no cause and you can often be expected to get "back on your feet" very soon. Although physically you may recover from a miscarriage quite quickly, emotionally it can take much longer.
A stillbirth or neonatal death often has many causes but sometimes the cause is unknown. Parents who have spent six months and more looking forward to the birth of their baby are devastated, and may wonder if they have in some way caused the death of their baby. They may be further distressed by being asked to consent to a postmortem examination.
You may find the following information helpful:
- At the hospital: the hospital staff will help you with any wishes you might have - to hold your baby, or to take photographs; the hospital chaplain can discuss a religious service with you if you wish; the hospital social worker can refer you to bereavement counselling.
- Outside the hospital, your GP will refer you to specialist counselling help if you are finding it hard to cope.
- The Miscarriage Association of Ireland is a voluntary organisation which provides information and support to women who have suffered a miscarriage and their partners. It provides telephone support and holds monthly meetings. It also supplies factsheets on miscarriage-related matters.
- The Little Lifetime Foundation (formerly Irish Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) is a voluntary organisation that provides information and support to bereaved parents and families whose baby has died or is expected to die.
- Parents can register a stillbirth and apply for a stillbirth certificate for their baby.
- Mothers of stillborn babies born after 24 weeks of pregnancy are entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave and to maternity benefit. For details, please contact the Maternity Benefit section of the Department of Social Protection.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Formerly known as "cot death", SIDS refers to the sudden death of a previously healthy baby under a year old. The grief which accompanies the death of a baby is often exacerbated by feelings of guilt, as the parents wonder if they could in some way have contributed to their baby's death. Research shows that the cause of SIDS is unknown - babies appear healthy prior to death, and SIDS cannot be prevented.
The Irish Sudden Infant Death Association (ISIDA) provides a range of support and information services, including a nationwide support helpline, a handbook of information on SIDS, a befriending service and annual memorial services for SIDS babies.