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In addition to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is also known for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, as well as SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) Awareness - both of which are very serious and sad subjects.
What can you say to a grieving parent after the loss of their baby? How can you give gentle support or know the right words to say? According to the CDC, over a million pregnancies end in miscarriages or stillbirths each year.
National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month has become a safe space for those grieving a loss, and others trying to understand that loss and provide comfort. This October, discover ways to communicate gently and sensitively to grieving parents and anyone suffering the loss of an infant. There are activities and community resources available and closer than you think.
Every night in October, light pink and blue candles and place them in your windows. Some communities do candlelight vigils at churches or in parks. The glow of candlelight at night is a beautiful way to remember and honor.
October can be a tough month to squeeze in another remembrance event. Coordinate with friends and family to develop a press kit and strategies to get the word out about National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Start small with a neighborhood publication and spread out from there.
Assemble your closest family and friends and scout out trees in neighborhoods and in local parks. Tie pink and blue ribbons as a remembrance. Pass flyers out nearby spelling out why the event is important. Make everything beautiful for the babies.
1. It's Not Celebrated Everywhere
Whether you honor it as a day or an entire month, the subject of pregnancy and infant loss awareness is not observed in many non-English speaking countries.
2. There Are Many Places To Find Support
There are a variety of groups to help parents grieve - including "Currently Pregnant After a Loss", "Trying to Conceive After A Loss", and "Living Children Before and After a Loss."
3. Miscarriages Are Prevalent
It is shocking to think that with all of the available technology, 1 in 4 women will miscarry.
4. Australia Lets Parents Hold Funerals
Australia allows parents to hold funerals or memorial services for babies born under 20 weeks old that do not survive.
1. A grieving mom started the movement
After Robyn Bear had 6 miscarriages, she realized that her support system couldn't fully understand her loss. Eventually, Robyn teamed up with 2 other women to get proclamations signed supporting a day of remembrance for deceased babies and their grieving parents. This action turned into a political movement.
2. It helps supporters communicate sensitively
Sometimes, certain phrases that are told to a grieving parent can unwittingly sound insensitive. National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month provides resources and teaching tools to help people understand the grief process. More importantly, it guides other family members and supporters through the communication skills that can offer comfort to parents after the devastating loss of a child.
3. The infant is still the family's baby
Babies die from stillbirths, miscarriages, and SIDS, among other tragedies. Even though the child passed away in the womb or shortly after birth, the parents named and bonded with the baby. It's not easy to just "get over it." Parents must learn to live with their loss. Supporters must be sensitive to the trauma by understanding that the baby already had a place in the family.
Approximately 3,500 infants die annually in the United States from sleep-related deaths, including SIDS. By following the Safe Sleep Guidelines developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, these deaths can be significantly reduced.
Back to sleep for every sleep: To reduce the risk of SIDS, infants should be placed wholly on the back for every sleep by every caregiver until the child reaches 1 year of age. Side sleeping is not safe and not advised.
Use a firm sleep surface: Infants should be placed on a firm sleep surface covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft objects to reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation. A firm surface maintains its shape and will not indent or conform to the shape of the infant's head when the infant is placed on the surface. Soft mattresses could create an indentation and increase the chance of rebreathing or suffocation if the infant is placed in or rolls over to the prone position.
Soft materials or objects, such as pillows, quilts, comforters, or sheepskins, even if covered by a sheet, shouldn't be placed under a sleeping infant. If a mattress cover is used, it should be tightly fitting and thin. The infant should also sleep in an area free of hazards, such as dangling cords, electric wires, and window covering cords because they may present a strangulation risk. Infant sleep clothing, such as a wearable blanket, is preferable to blankets and other coverings to keep the baby warm while reducing the chance of head covering or entrapment that could result from blanket use.
Sitting devices, such as car seats, strollers, swings, infant carriers, and infant slings are not recommended for routine sleep in the hospital or at home, particularly for young infants. Infants who are younger than 4 months are particularly at risk because they may assume positions that can create a risk of suffocation or airway obstruction. They may also not be able to move out of a potentially asphyxiating situation.
When infant slings and cloth carriers are used for carrying, it is important to ensure that the infant's head is up and above the fabric, the face is visible, and the nose and mouth are clear of obstructions. After nursing, the infant should be repositioned in the sling so that the head is up, clear of fabric, and is not against the adult's body or sling.
If an infant falls asleep in a sitting device, he or she should be removed from the product and moved to a crib or other appropriate flat surface as soon as it is safe and practical. Car seats and similar products are not stable on a crib mattress or other elevated surfaces.
Breastfeeding is recommended
Breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. Unless contraindicated, mothers should exclusively breastfeed or feed with expressed milk for 6 months.
It is recommended that infants sleep in the parents' room, close to their bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, ideally for the first year of life, but for at least the first 6 months. There is evidence that sleeping in the parents' room, on a separate surface decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%. In addition, this arrangement is most likely to prevent suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment that may occur when the infant is sleeping in the adult bed.
Placing the crib close to the parents' bed so that the infant is within view and reach can facilitate feeding, comforting and monitoring of the infant. Room sharing reduces the SIDS risk. Couches and armchairs are extremely dangerous places for infants. Sleeping on couches and armchairs places infants at an extraordinarily high risk of SIDS. Therefore, parents and other caregivers should be especially vigilant as to their wakefulness when feeding infants or lying with infants on these surfaces. Infants should never be placed on a couch or armchair for sleep.
Consider a pacifier at nap time and bedtime: Studies have reported a protective effect of pacifiers on the incidence of SIDS. The pacifier should be used when placing the infant for sleep. It doesn't need to be reinserted once the infant falls asleep. If the infant refuses the pacifier, they should not be forced to take it. Pacifiers should not be hung around the infant's neck. Pacifiers that attach to infant clothing should not be used with sleeping infants. Objects such as, stuffed toys and other items that may present a suffocation or choking risk, should not be attached to pacifiers.
Avoid smoke, alcohol, and illicit drug use during pregnancy and after birth: Both maternal smoking during pregnancy and smoke in the infant's environment after birth are major risk factors for SIDS. Mothers should not smoke during pregnancy or after the infant's birth. There should be no smoking near pregnant women or infants. Encourage families to set strict rules for smoke free homes and cars, and to eliminate secondhand tobacco smoke from all places in which children and other nonsmokers spend time. The risk of SIDS is particularly high when the infant bed shares with an adult smoker, even when the adult doesn't smoke in bed.
There is also an increased risk of SIDS with prenatal and postnatal exposure to alcohol or illicit drug use. Mothers should avoid alcohol and illicit drugs periconceptionally and during pregnancy. Parental alcohol and/or drug use in combination with bed sharing places the infant at a particularly high risk of SIDS.
Avoid Overheating & head covering in infants: In general, infants should be dressed appropriately for the environment, with no greater than 1 layer more than an adult would wear to be comfortable in that environment. Parents & caregivers should evaluate the infant for signs of overheating, such as sweating or the infant's chest feeling hot to the touch. Over bundling and covering the face and head should be avoided.
Pregnant women should obtain regular prenatal care: There is substantial evidence linking a lower risk of SIDS for infants whose mothers obtain regular prenatal care. Pregnant women should follow guidelines for frequency of prenatal visits.
Infants should be immunized in accordance with the recommendations of the AAP & CDC: There is no evidence that there is a causal relationship between immunizations and SIDS. Recent evidence suggests that vaccination may have a protective effect against SIDS.
Avoid the use of commercial devices that are inconsistent with safe sleep recommendations: Be wary of devices that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. Examples include, but are not limited to: wedges and positioners, and other devices placed in the adult bed for the purpose of positioning or separating the infant from others in the bed.
Lastly, supervised awake tummy time is recommended to facilitate development and to minimize development of positional plagiocephaly.