International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

17 Feb 2021 speech

Ms FLINT (Boothby—Government Whip) (09:58): I'm pleased to support this motion from the other place. We should and we will officially and eternally recognise 15 October as International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It is our task, as elected representatives of the people of Australia, to address issues that are sensitive and difficult, and pregnancy and infant loss are certainly two of those issues. For generations, miscarriage and still birth have been considered a taboo topic. The incredible tragedy of losing a baby was compounded by society-wide silence that saw mothers and fathers and extended families forced to quietly cope with their grief. Not only were parents suffering the unimaginable pain of having a baby born still not supported after the loss; research into the reasons why and policy action to prevent others suffering this terrible tragedy was not forthcoming. Today, I again extend my deep sympathy and condolences to anyone who has experienced such loss.

I first learnt about the issue of stillbirth thanks to the work of Claire Ford and her organisation Still Aware, which she founded after her first child, her daughter Alfie, was born still. Claire made it her life's work to ensure that other women, families and medical professionals know all about the risk factors involved in stillbirth and the simple steps that can be taken to keep an unborn baby safe. I was truly shocked to learn that women didn't know about these things and that many medical professionals were not communicating the simple things that women can do to keep their babies safe. Further, I was more shocked to learn that about 2,200 babies are born still each year in Australia and that rate has not changed for several decades. This number of babies lost, of babies born still, is about double the number of road fatalities in our nation, and, while we all know about what to do to stay safe on the roads, too many women and medical professionals still don't know what to do to keep unborn babies safe. There are very simple things that have greatly reduced the rate of stillbirth in other countries, such as encouraging women to sleep on their side after 28 weeks and also to monitor their baby's movements and to urgently seek medical advice if anything changes. These are the sorts of simple things women can do to keep themselves and their babies safe. I think probably one of the most important messages to all pregnant women
and their partners is: if you are concerned about your unborn baby, do not wait to seek medical assistance; seek assistance immediately.

I'm really proud to have worked with colleagues, in this place and the other, to make sure that we communicate these messages to as many women, medical professionals and families as possible and that we have started the education awareness and policy and research processes that should have started decades ago. It was back in December 2018 that we announced our initial $7.2 million of funding to support stillbirth measures, including $3 million of funding for stillbirth education and awareness programs; $1.2 million for a research project to minimise preventable stillbirth through the use of biomarkers and ultrasound in late pregnancy; $3 million in research funding to expand the Safer Baby Bundle project, making it a national program; and $1.3 million for Sands Australia to deliver an intensive support service for families following a stillbirth. We have also provided $43.9 million over seven years for perinatal mental health and wellbeing, which also helps to support families who have experienced the grief of losing a child.

Late last year, on 10 December, I was immensely proud to be present when we released the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan. This is the document that will guide us as decision-makers and help all of our policymakers, departments and medical advocacy groups around the nation to make sure we stay on track to take all the steps we need to reduce the number of stillbirths that occur each year in this nation. Our aim is outlined in the plan, and our aim is to reduce stillbirths by 20 per cent or more over the next five years, which would be a very important and remarkable achievement given that the rate has not changed in two decades. The plan also aims to make sure that every single family affected by stillbirth receives respectful and supportive bereavement care. Again, I do want to record my sincere thanks to Minister Greg Hunt for everything that he has done to make this happen, and also to the former shadow minister for health, Chris Bowen, who I know worked very closely with us all to get this plan up and running. Minister Hunt announced a further $11 million of funding when we launched the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan, which will do things like support further stillbirth education and awareness initiatives and further extend and adapt the Safer Baby Bundle program. We'll develop new clinical care standards, and we're going to improve data and activities to enable long-term research
on stillbirths, which is absolutely critical. We have committed money to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework for the plan and will provide funding for state and territory governments to take immediate steps to increase the uptake of stillbirth autopsies and investigations, which is again a really critical factor in trying to get to the bottom of why we lose these babies when they, for all intents and purposes, look healthy and yet are born still. We have also provided $1 million, through a National Health and Medical Research Council grant, to Monash University to conduct a trial of wearable low-cost devices to monitor fetal movements and prevent stillbirth. So I commend this motion. I thank our colleagues in the other place for presenting it and passing it, and I am delighted that the House is doing so as well.