Offering Support Through Miscarriage and Infant Loss

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The loss of a pregnancy is a traumatic event. While it is said that 1 in 4 known pregnancies end in miscarriage, this statistic does not make the loss any less sad or painful for the person experiencing it.

Perinatal loss refers to:

  • Miscarriage – a loss during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy 
  • Stillbirth – a loss after 20 weeks of pregnancy 

We are often told to keep our pregnancy on the down low, at least until after the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage lessens. Not sharing the news of pregnancy is a very personal choice. When pregnancy loss happens, a range of emotions such as numbness and shock, guilt, heartbreak, devastation, and anger often follows it. Choosing to keep it to yourself can feel really isolating, while telling others then having to retract the news can be just as difficult. 

While those around you might be aware of what’s going on, they may not know what to do or say. Should they even talk about it? They may be scared of saying the wrong thing, or maybe they weren’t even supposed to know about the pregnancy. Social support plays a big role in recovery from trauma and grief, so here are some tips on how to be a source of support. 

 

The Basics of Supporting Someone through Loss:

Just listen. Often times, we want to say the right thing to try and fix a sad situation. In loss, there is nothing we can do to fix the grief. Instead, we can be there for the person, and just listen to anything they have to say. 

Be authentic. Be sincere in your reaction. It is okay to tell the person, “I don’t know what to say” or “I am so sorry, I’ve never been through this”. They will appreciate your honesty. Avoid using clichés - they come across as dismissive and minimize the loss.  

Recognize that everyone experiences a pregnancy and loss differently. Avoid sharing your own story or trying to relate to it. The person grieving is the focus.

 

3 A’s of Support in Loss:

Acknowledge the loss. Tell the person, “I am so sorry for your loss”, or “I am so sorry you are going through this”. Behaving as though nothing has happened is not helpful, and can isolate the person. Acknowledging it gives them space to grieve openly with people they trust. 

Allow the person or family time to grieve. Do not set any expectations on how long grief should take, or when they should ‘get over it’. 

Ask the person how they would like to be supported, then be available as much as possible to support them emotionally and with any other needs they may have. 

While the loss of a pregnancy through miscarriage or stillbirth is very personal, the woman and her family do not need to be alone in their grief. If you are aware of the loss, be thoughtful in offering support. You do not have to have gone through this experience yourself to support them. You just need to care. 

Alanna Thompson is a Registered Clinical Counsellor that offers compassionate, counselling support to families in the Comox Valley who have experienced miscarriage or infant loss. 

Alanna Thompson, M.A., R.C.C.

Registered Clinical Counsellor with Perinatal Loss Support Comox Valley

Phone: 250-650-4234

Email: info@cvloss.com

 

C is for Crying

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You’re having a baby, and they’re going to cry; that's a good thing! An infants primary mode of communicating their feelings and needs is by using the primal cry of their voice. They exercise this form of communication from the first moments after birth, until they are articulate enough to formulate their needs into gestures and language. 

So…how do I make it stop? 

First: breath. Crying can trigger an anxious response in mothers (especially, often moreso than fathers; it just seems to be a maternal wiring aimed and nurturing and protecting our offspring.) Approaching our baby with frustration or anxiety will only add to their upset, and nobody wins. 

Second: assess. You’ll get better over time, because like any new relationship, you’re getting to your baby, while learning to interpret the cries and cues of your baby, becoming more attuned with each passing day. Some of the most typical reasons for crying in a new infant are: hunger, tiredness, discomfort (a dirty diaper), and pain or sickness (teething or a cold). 

So how can you soothe a crying baby who’s needs have been met? 

Our favourite resource for baby-calming, is Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s of for Soothing Babies. 

Karp believes that the ‘mystery’ of colicy babies isn’t really a mystery at all. He attributes the fussiness of the first three months to what is often referred to as “The Fourth Trimester”, and that babies during this phase of life, are best soothed and calmed by mimicking the environment of the womb. These womb-like, calming sensations are:

Swaddling

Swaddling mimics the compressed and cozy nature of the womb. Swaddling your baby decreases the startle reflex, and helps calm baby enough for the other 4 S’s to be most effective. 

Side or Stomach Position

Holding your swaddled baby on their side or stomach, either over your arm or shoulder, is the most soothing position for them to be rocked and comforted. 

Shush

The womb was not a quiet place! The sound of blood rushing through your body, the hum of your voice and the noises surrounding, all contributed to a fairly noisy environment for your baby to become accustomed to. White noise in their room, or a loud and constant “sshhhh” sound as you hold and rock your swaddled baby, will be soothing to their ears. 

Swing

Fast, tiny ‘swinging’ movements of your baby mimics the jiggling and moving around they experienced int the womb. While you keep the head and neck supported, you can jiggle the baby in about 1 inch movements while their body relaxes into your arms. 

Suck

Baby’s are apt to relax from sucking, either from a pacifier, breast, or bottle. If your baby has been fed and you don’t desire keeping your breast in their mouth to pacify them, a pacifier can be the cherry on top to soothe your baby to sleep. 

Remember that this will take time…while this method is effective, every baby is different. You WILL learn the subtleties of what your baby prefers and how they respond to the soothing approach you take. Practice will improve your ability to soothe your baby, and remember to always listen to the voice of intuition. You will become the expert on your baby, and nobody else can be that for them.

Check out this link for more information on the 5's and Karps' book, "The Happiest Baby on the Block".

 

B is for Baby's First Bath

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Baby’s First Bath - this can be such a special moment for new parents, bonding with their tiny infant, taking in every part of them in a new way for the first time. 

*Disclaimer: sometimes baby’s cry through the entire thing, and you get that baby in and out of water as quickly as possible, but we’re going for the best case scenario here.

Sometimes the first bath is offered in the hospital shortly after the birth, but many families are opting to hold out a few hours or days on baby's first bath. 

Ick. But aren’t they dirty?

Not really...Baby’s often come out with a bit of blood that’s towel-ed off while they’re handed to mom, and some white, waxy-like substance called vernix, but the short answer is - no. 

In the recent past, many hospitals held fast to the ‘germ theory’ of disease, and the first bath was a means of preventing the spread of infectious disease. It’s something that's become tied to culture and tradition, but the practice is now being put into question. Current research is finding that waiting a few days to bath baby can actually be beneficial for many reasons: 

The Micro-Biome

Babies who are born vaginally are exposed to microbes that contribute to their Microbiome - this helps build and support baby’s immature immune system, and bathing can eliminate some of this beneficial bacteria from baby’s skin. We’re still uncovering the science in the link between the infant micro biome and long term health implications, but we do know that the exposure to these bacterias are beneficial. 

 

The Vernix 

The waxy, cheese like substance that baby's often come out with, called vernix, also has immune-boosting properties, and protects and hydrates the newborns new, delicate skin. Vernix acts as a barrier, and it’s pH balancing properties actually inhibit the growth of bacteria on skin. Rather than washing it off, rub it in like a lotion, or allow it to naturally wear off over time, it won’t take long. 

 

The Golden Hour(s)

The best place for a healthy infant to be is in the warmth and safety of it’s mothers arms, nestled up at her breast, forming a bond and connection that establishes breastfeeding and the ongoing attachment of mother and infant. Skin-to-skin contact has numerous benefits, including regulating baby’s temperature and heart-rate, improved breastfeeding success, and a more stable transition for the infant. Rushing to bathe baby can take away from these precious first hours, and it can be an unnecessary intrusion on this important time. 

 

So how long should you wait? 

A minimum of 2-12 hours after birth is suggested, but some experts are suggesting to wait around 48 hours. If your baby needs a little tidying after birth, use a damp cloth and clean the areas that could use some attention, and let yourself enjoy you fresh little squish for those first hours, uninterrupted. 

 

When it's finally time to bath baby...

(Stay tuned for a video explanation to break down bathing-baby, but for now, check out this great explanation HERE)