MOTIONS - International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

MOTIONS - International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day Main Image

18 October 2021

This is a very important motion, and I thank the member for Werriwa for moving it. Miscarriage, pregnancy loss and neonatal death are very important parts of the work of a perinatologist's life. In Australia, whilst we have very good medical care, these are areas that have been sorely neglected for a long period of time. I wish to acknowledge Dr Peter Barr, who was a mentor of mine, a perinatologist and neonatologist at Royal North Shore Hospital, who started the first awareness campaign for pregnancy loss and neonatal death in Australia and who has subsequently provided ongoing care for parents who have lost a child during pregnancy or shortly afterwards.

There are several things that I want to make mention of in talking to this motion. Firstly, in Australia we have no uniform newborn screening test program. As mentioned in the previous motion, it's very important that Australia, on an urgent basis, does have a uniform, national program for neonatal screening tests for common disorders and less common disorders for which treatment is now available. This needs to be Australia wide, and it requires some urgency to develop. That's the first ask. I want to pay tribute to Felicity McNeill from Better Access Australia, who has been campaigning long and hard to have a national newborn screening program developed in Australia. This would certainly save lives. It would be very cost-effective. In the 21st century, when treatments are available for some of the rare genetic and metabolic disorders, it is very important that we bring our services up to date and have a national program.

We also need to provide support on an ongoing basis to those who have lost a pregnancy or had a neonatal death. As has been said, the pain does not go away. People do learn to deal with it, but the pain itself continues. I feel for every one of the patients that I've cared for, for every one of those families who have lost a child in pregnancy or in the neonatal period. Much more needs to be done in terms of research. It's estimated that up to 50 per cent of miscarriages are preventable. Diseases such as undiagnosed diabetes and medical conditions caused by poor control of high blood pressure or drug and alcohol intake and other factors that can cause miscarriage are diagnosable and treatable if they're picked up early enough. Not everyone in Australia has access to a highly detailed ultrasound that can pick up congenital abnormalities. Treatment is available for many of these abnormalities before birth if they're picked up early enough. It's very important that they are picked up and managed and that treatment is available throughout Australia.

For a long time I've been asking my party, the Labor Party, to adopt as our child health program a program called First 1000 Days. It provides assessment and support for all children from pre conception to the age of two. It looks at illness, it looks at preventable causes and it looks at management of pregnancy and afterwards. Simple measures can make huge differences. For example, we know that, in relation to sudden infant death syndrome, the simple thing of getting a child to sleep on its back instead of its stomach can reduce our sudden infant death rates by over 50 per cent. It's unbelievable that a simple treatment like that can and does have such a huge effect. Simple measures like encouraging breastfeeding and proper infant nutrition can make huge differences throughout life, so it's about time we adopted policies like the First 1000 Days to make sure that preventable causes of pregnancy loss and neonatal and infant death can be prevented.

I would like to pay tribute to the work of Red Nose and Sands who have constantly campaigned on these measures. I would like to pay tribute to all of the families who have suffered a neonatal death or infant loss through a miscarriage because I know the pain of that goes on for a long time, and it's up to us, as politicians, to make sure that measures are put in place to support you as best we can.