Pregnancy and Infant Loss

Trigger Warning: this post discusses infant loss, miscarriage, and stillbirth.


 

"That won't happen to me."

This is one of the most dangerous thoughts in the world, and one I have to admit I believed at one point. People tragically lose their babies every day, but I truly thought that I would never be among them.


Even when we found out that we were expecting twins, which automatically placed me at high risk, I chose to believe that my pregnancy would go smoothly and I would keep my girls in until 34 weeks (which is when we had discussed a possible induction if 36 weeks didn't look like a possibility). Naivete is a dangerous game.


The fact is that premature birth did happen to me, just like it happens to 380,000 US women every year. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and premature birth and the complications that can follow it are the leading cause of infant death in our country.


Prematurity Statistics


According to the March of Dimes, the premature birth rate in the US is 9.8%, which puts us among the worst of nations with high levels of resources. One in 10 babies is born prematurely in the United States. With an average daily birth rate of about 10,267 babies, that means about 1,027 babies are born too soon every single day in the US!


While treatment and life-saving care for even the smallest and sickest of babies are improving every year, many babies will still die from premature birth and its complications. While the chance to survive increases with each week a pregnancy progresses, there is still a chance of death or long-term complications from premature birth.


Take a look at the numbers by week:


  • Less than 24 weeks gestation: babies born this soon have a less than 50% chance of survival. If they do survive, at least 40% of them will have long-term complications.

  • 24 weeks gestation: babies born at 24 weeks have between a 60 and 70% survival rate.

  • 28 weeks gestation: by 28 weeks, babies have an 80 to 90% chance of surviving, and the risk of long-term complications decreases to about 10%.

  • 32 weeks gestation: by 32 weeks, your baby has about a 95% chance of surviving and a very low risk of infant or childhood death due to complications.

There is a lot more that could be discussed here, including long-term health impacts (that may or not be apparent at birth or during the weeks following), infant and early childhood death rates, etc., but it's a lot to unpack, and goes beyond the scope of this post.


Some of the most common long-term complications of prematurity include:

  • cerebral palsy

  • vision problems or blindness

  • hearing loss or deafness

  • learning disabilities

  • chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)

  • intestinal complications, such as those from necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) which can cause malnutrition and other issues.

Any of these things can greatly impact the quality of a child's life. Children may not be able to participate in the same sports or activities as their peers, eat certain foods, or even care for themselves, depending on the severity of their complications. They can all also lead to death in infancy or early childhood.


Pregnancy Loss


Miscarriage is defined as the loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks gestation. About 10 to 15% of pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Chromosomal abnormalities in genes cause many miscarriages, but sometimes there is not any known cause.


If a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks gestation, the pregnancy will end in a stillbirth. This occurs in about 1 out of every 100 pregnancies. About 24,000 babies are stillborn every year in the US.


Infant Loss


Infant loss is defined as death up to one year of age, by any cause. In the United States, while our infant death rate has slowly improved, it is still higher than comparable countries at 5.79%. This site has some really interesting information about infant loss and its causes.


Check out this graphic that shows the leading causes of infant loss in the United States:

With nearly 6 babies per 1,000 dying, that led to a rate of some 20,000 infants that died in the US alone in 2020 .


The Effects of Grief


The pain of losing a pregnancy or a child is deep and lasting. You don't ever get over it, you can only learn to cope and move forward. After the death of a child, parents are left to pick up the pieces. We still have to be strong for our partners and for our other children. We still have jobs we are expected to do.


You may experience things such as:

  • Nightmares

  • Depression

  • PTSD

  • Anger

  • Triggers

  • Appetite changes

All of these are normal and there is nothing wrong with you! There are resources to help. Please seek help if you're feeling like you can't handle it or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else! If you'd like some resources to navigate grief, check out M.O.M Moms On a Mission.


Sadly, the death of a child can also put such a strain on a marriage that it ends in divorce. This puts an additional burden on each parent and on other children they may have. Each partner will likely process the loss in a different way, and it is important to respect the other as they grieve. Keeping the lines of communication open and being fully supportive is imperative as you learn to heal together.


What Can We Do?


While many factors that lead to premature birth and infant mortality are out of anyone's control, there are some things we can do:


  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy

  • Do not use alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, vapes, etc. during pregnancy or around babies

  • Always keep your baby in a car seat in a vehicle and in a safe place at home

  • Make sure your baby sleeps only in an approved crib with an approved mattress, and don't co-sleep

  • If you're at high risk for premature delivery, take it easy and follow your doctor's recommendations

If you'd like to support projects that help research and combat prematurity, its many complications, infant mortality, and more, here are some great organizations:

And of course, by donating to Sadie's Purpose, you're helping families navigating the NICU and fighting their own war on prematurity. Prematurity and pregnancy and infant loss will never go away, sadly. But together we can raise awareness and support those who have gone through these things.



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