Pregnancy loss, in the form of early or late miscarriage, or stillbirth, occurs in 20-25% of all pregnancies. It is estimated that at least 15% of clinically recognised pregnancies miscarry, while the risk of stillbirth is 1 in 200. In addition, up to 3% of all pregnancies end in second trimester miscarriage (>14 weeks). Despite many improvements in medical care, these rates have remained nearly constant for decades. There are some medical reasons why miscarriage or stillbirth occurs, but frequently, clinicians cannot attribute loss of the pregnancy to any particular cause. Numerous social, behavioural and lifestyle risk factors are also reported to be associated with pregnancy loss, but these links are complex and not fully understood.
The loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy or shortly after birth can have a devastating impact on the woman, her partner, her other children and also her extended family. The feelings of grief and isolation, and the loss of hopes for the future can seem overwhelming. This may be complicated by the hidden nature of this loss, as the outside world didn’t know their baby. There is significant psychological morbidity associated with prenatal loss at any gestation and effects on physical and emotional wellbeing may be long-lasting.
Given the extensive impact of pregnancy loss, it is imperative to understand the underlying causes. Understanding reasons why pregnancy loss happens helps parents recover, but may also identify recurrence risks, and even identifying a sporadic cause has merit as it can provide reassurance for a future pregnancy. In addition, few studies have addressed the lived experience of pregnancy loss and there is little qualitative research showing how bereaved parents understand and make sense of their loss. Also, identification of mothers at risk for pregnancy loss is a necessary step to effective intervention and prevention, and the intensity of prenatal care can then be matched to each woman’s risk profile.
The clinical pregnancy loss team at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) encompasses a multidisciplinary team of doctors, midwives, nurses, administrative staff, social workers and chaplains working collaboratively with the common goal - to provide support and information to parents bereaved by early and late pregnancy loss, promote their emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical well-being, as well as improving professional practice and facilitating research in this area.