The sixth annual Uncertainty and Loss in Maternity and Neonatal Care conference jointly hosted by Bliss, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and Sands, took place in September at the Brunei Gallery in London.

Health professionals listened throughout the day to a varied programme packed with insights about best practice when responding to critical illness in babies, and how to provide the best possible care to parents who are facing uncertainty, loss and bereavement in the delivery of maternity and neonatal care.

A range of highly respected speakers addressed the conference including clinicians, researchers, professors, bereavement midwives, neonatal nurses, and bereaved parents, as well as representatives from Sands, Bliss and the RCM.

Speakers included Maggie Redshaw, Senior Research Fellow at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) presented the key findings of the recent Listening to Parents survey. Carried out by the NPEU, with the help of Sands and Bliss, the information collected, from families who have experienced stillbirth or neonatal death,  can now be used to improve services and care.

Professor of Midwifery, Mavis Kirkham, and Retired Lecturer and Researcher, Dr Doreen Kenworthy gave a thought provoking talk on midwives coping with loss and grief.

Dimitrios Siassakos, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics, presented very interesting insights into improving bereavement care for both parents and healthcare staff.

The conference was fortunate to hear from several bereaved parents including Joanne Ferguson, a former lay representative on the neonatal clinical reference group, who spoke about how loss is not a lifestyle choice, and parents from the HOPE Group, who shared their experiences of loss in the context of supporting women at the highest risk of infant death.

Sands parent, Anna Milloy, joined Maggie Redshaw and Bereavement Midwife, Susan Preece, on a panel-led discussion on ‘Taking the baby’s body home’.  

Anna gave a candid and heartfelt account of her experience of taking her baby daughter Philomena, who died during labour in 2008, home for three days before her burial. By doing this Philomena was able to meet the rest of her family. Anna felt it allowed them all to normalise what had happened some what and allowed for both herself and husband to be parents to Philomena.      

The subject of taking the baby home was then opened up to the floor and allowed for ideas on best practice to be shared. It also proved to be a worthwhile discussion for those who were unsure of how to approach this sensitive subject with parents. Others who were uncertain of the practicalities were able to gain advice from midwives and health professionals experienced in this area. 

The overwhelming message throughout the day was the need for effective and straightforward communication and enabling parents to have choices. Allowing parents to make those choices can subsequently empower health professionals to make a positive difference to families that are in a devastating situation, which can improve the care of those facing uncertainty and loss.  

For further information about speakers please see conference programme.