What the standard says
To ensure that parents and their support people receive appropriate bereavement care and follow-up after a perinatal loss, to support their physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. To ensure that appropriate referral pathways and supports are in place after discharge from the hospital.
What this means for you
The death of a baby is a devastating and difficult experience for parents, their families and support people. This is regardless of when the death has occurred, or the reasons for the death.
When you experience the death of a baby, or are told that your baby will not live long because of a life-limiting condition, you will be offered care to support your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Your clinician should ask you about your personal, cultural and religious or spiritual needs and preferences during this time, and support your decisions about the care you receive.
You should expect that any information your clinician shares with you (verbal or written) is provided in a way that meets your language and literacy needs. If needed, your clinician will offer to arrange an interpreter to support your discussions.
If your baby has died before birth
When it is recognised that your baby has died before you give birth, your clinician will have a discussion with you about next steps. This may include arranging for you to give birth through induction of labour or caesarean section, if you are not already in labour. All pain relief options for labour and birth will be discussed with you, and you will be given time to make up your mind. Your clinicians will also understand that you may change your mind, and will provide care that best supports you and your individual situation.
After the birth of your baby
The care that is provided to you after your baby is born should be sensitive to your needs. This may include your clinician:
- Arranging to have discussions with you in a private, quiet area that is separate from other mothers and newborn babies
- Letting other staff members who are caring for you know that your baby has died
- Involving family members or other support people of your choice in helping you to make decisions about your care
- Ensuring that you are given time to spend with your baby following the birth, in a private space.
Your clinician should also offer you access to an interpreter, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health worker or liaison officer, or cross-cultural health worker, depending on your needs.
You should also be given a chance to organise mementos of your baby, if this is something you would like to do. This may include things such as:
- Taking photos with your baby
- Keeping a lock of your baby’s hair
- Having your baby’s handprints and footprints taken
- Creating cot cards or name tags for your baby
- Arranging meaningful rituals such as a memorial service or other mourning rituals with the assistance of spiritual support people.
If you would like to take your baby home, or to another place that is important to you, your clinician will discuss the options that are available with you.
You can also receive practical support with any arrangements to do with the death of your baby. This may include making or cancelling appointments; completing documentation, including birth registration paperwork; and receiving suitable supports after you leave the hospital. Your clinician should provide you with information about arranging a commemorative service, funeral or other mourning rituals for your baby if you wish, and support you to make an unhurried decision. They can also provide you with information about your eligibility for financial support, where available.
The clinicians involved in your care should answer any questions that you may have about your care, and give you and your support people the time that you need to make decisions.
Your physical and mental wellbeing after perinatal loss
Your clinician will also discuss ways to support physical recovery after giving birth. This may include providing information and advice relating to breast milk production (lactation), vaginal bleeding, wound care and physical activity. Some women may prefer to stop their body from making breast milk by using medication, while others may choose to continue lactating and/or donate their breast milk through a milk bank (where available) to help another family. A postnatal check with a GP or obstetrician within six weeks of birth will be recommended. You should let your clinician know if you have any questions, and expect to be supported to make decisions about your care that are right for you.
Before leaving the hospital, you should expect to be given the details of someone you can contact if you have any questions or concerns after discharge.
Your clinician may also discuss the impact the death of a baby can have on your mental health and wellbeing. It is normal to feel grief and sadness after the loss. For some parents, these feelings can become worse over time, or mental health issues may arise. Your clinician should give you information about support services that are available outside the hospital, including bereavement care, other parent support organisations or psychological support services. Your clinician can arrange formal referrals to these services, with your consent.
Your clinician should also acknowledge the grief that other members of your family or support people may be experiencing, including the baby’s grandparents and siblings. They will explain that it is important for them to speak to someone if they require support, and discuss what support services are available for them.
Support after leaving the hospital
Your clinician will offer you a follow-up meeting within 12 weeks of leaving the hospital to check on your physical and emotional wellbeing. This will include discussing the results of clinical investigations, if available, including anything that may affect your decisions about future pregnancies. As some parents may require support beyond this time, your clinician will discuss available options for ongoing support, depending on your needs and preferences.
Your clinician will also refer you to your GP for follow-up care and support. With your permission, your clinician will share information about your baby’s death with your GP promptly, including the circumstances surrounding the death, and recommendations to support your physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. They can also arrange referrals to clinicians with specific training and expertise in bereavement care for pregnancy loss, such as a psychologist or qualified social worker, if this is something you would prefer.