Push for grieving mums to get full paid parental leave
Parents who experience a stillbirth should be entitled to the full level of parental leave offered by private companies, according to the recommendations of a Senate inquiry handed down in Parliament today.
And the rates of stillbirth should be reduced by 20 per cent within three years as part of a National Stillbirth Strategy.
The Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education tabled its report in the Senate last night and highlighted the shocking statistic of six babies a day who are stillborn in Australia.
That's more than double the three deaths a day on our roads and significantly higher than the one woman who dies in Australia due to domestic violence every week.
The committee recommended the Fair Work Act was looked at to ensure parents who experience loss were entitled to the same rights as parents who delivered a live baby.
Senator and former NSW premier Kristina Keneally - whose daughter Caroline was stillborn in 1998 - said she hoped the stigma around stillbirth could be shed in the wake of the report.
"Our rate of stillbirth is significantly higher than in similar nations such as New Zealand, the UK, The Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries," Senator Keneally said.
"While the rate of stillbirth has declined over the past fifteen years in countries with similar levels of economic performance and educational achievement to ours, the rate in Australia has not."
The report highlights that stillbirth will directly and indirectly cost the economy $681m between 2016 and 2020 - not counting the economic cost of the 11,000 lives lost over those five years.
Among the key recommendations include a call for all private companies to offer employees who experience stillbirth their full paid parental leave entitlement in the same way that they would if their baby had been born living. This could be done by examining the Fair Work Act.
Currently the majority of private companies don't offer paid parental leave to employees who experience stillbirth and the committee heard of many cases where parents felt pressured back to work when they were still grieving.
In one case a woman was asked to return to work 11 days after losing her child.
Another key recommendation included a strategy to train and employ more skilled pathologists to identify risks and reasons for stillbirth.
The committee received 268 submissions and held six public hearings across the country.
The committee also called on hospitals to better their bereavement policies. It delivered 16 recommendations.
While some hospitals have fantastic stillbirth procedures, many do not have co-ordinated policies and in one case staff even called the parents of a stillborn baby to ask when it was coming in for its hearing test.
Stillbirth Foundation Australia CEO, Kate Lynch said stillbirth was a "national health issue that needs a national response".
"After years of campaigning from the Foundation, we now have attention and a plan that can be translated into funding and action to drive the stillbirth toll down," Ms Lynch said.
"For too long, families have suffered stillbirth in silence. This report is the first co-ordinated, national opportunity for positive change."
Katie Thurlby, 33, is a mum to three children. Her daughter Evelyn Rosie Lou was stillborn last September at 38-weeks gestation.
"I knew something was wrong but the doctors just really fobbed me off," the Camden-based (Sydney) mum told News Corp.
Ms Thurlby gave birth to son Lorcan three months ago and said that he survived because of the quality of care she sought out.
But she knows that is not the norm and wanted to submit to the inquiry to help stem the large number of babies stillborn each year.
"We need a greater emphasis on education across the board so all medical professionals can look for the signs that something might not be right," Ms Thurlby said.
"(Lorcan) is the example of good obstetric care."
News Corp journalist Lauren Martyn-Jones gave birth to twin girls Audrey and Lillian in March 2017.
Audrey was stillborn and Martyn-Jones is passionate about making sure bereavement care for families is given appropriate funding and support. She made a submission to the inquiry.
"For bereaved parents like my husband and I, having the Senate acknowledge our precious babies, and the profound impact losing them has had on our lives, has meant a great deal," Martyn-Jones said.
"There will never be a day when the loss of my daughter Audrey doesn't weigh upon me. Any life we can save, and any family we can spare from this grief is an achievement. I commend the Senate Select Committee for setting a target to reduce the rate of stillbirth in this country by 20 per cent.
"Recovering from losing a baby who you have loved, carried and anticipated for nine months is a long road, both physically and emotionally. I think it is really important the committee has recommended extending parental leave to families who have experienced stillbirth so bereaved mothers have the time they need to grapple with their loss".