Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. This Month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States snd around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes. Too many families grieve in silence, sometimes never coming to terms with their loss.

Pregnancy brings with it a number of expectations, dreams and fantasies – parents spend months planning not the just the birth of their child, but also his or her life in all the years to come. Now, just as both parents are emotionally preparing to welcome a child into the world, they must instead accept the loss of both the baby and all of their expectations for their future. For parents of infants, their homemade be filled with baby clothes, bottles and a crib. Even before one can accept their baby’s death, they must accept his or her life – their existence as a person.

One in four pregnancies ends in the loss of a baby. The loss of a child is recognized as the most intense cause of grief parents never “get over” the loss of a child – no matter the age. Parents experiencing grief without supportive care can have debilitating consequences such as PTSD, depression and anxiety that could further result in job loss, divorce, difficulties in daily living, or impediments with parenting of living children. The loss of a child stays with a family forever, but the emotional and physical impacts are often challenging for others to truly understand. Having support through grief is paramount to recovery.

Pregnancy and infant loss often occurs in silence, causing a moratorium on grief that can have tremendous impact upon the health of the mother, as well as the rest of the family. This grief can transform into various physical and mental health issues. The loss can be overlooked during a biopsychosocial assessment if a thorough history is not obtained. There are many reasons why the loss may be mourned in silence: the loss was related to adoption and the parents are avoiding speaking of the experience; there is a subjective experience of misattributed self-blame and shame and a sense of failure regarding the loss (as in miscarriage or birth defects); there is fear of ridicule or unwelcomed comments and weak attempts at helping the parents feel better (e.g., “You can always try for another child,” or the dreaded “It was God’s will”).

The CDC works to learn more about who might have a stillbirth and why. The CDC does this by tracking how often stillbirth occurs and researching what causes stillbirth and how to prevent it. Knowledge about the potential causes of stillbirth can be used to develop recommendations, policies, and services to help prevent stillbirth. While we continue to learn more about stillbirth, much work remains. Stillbirth is not often viewed as a public health issue, so increased awareness is key.