Parents affected by the death of a baby during pregnancy or after birth should be offered specialist counselling that helps them to deal with the unique trauma they have been through, according to a report published today by Centre for Mental Health.

The report, Life After Loss, is an economic evaluation of the baby loss charity Petals, which provides counselling to women who have experienced the death of a baby and their partners. It finds that by investing £3.17 million nationwide, specialist counselling could be provided to every mother affected by baby loss in England and Wales.

The report is published ahead of Baby Loss Awareness Week from 9-15 October. It finds that every pound spent on Petals’ service brings about savings to the public sector alone of £2.70, predominantly in reduced mental and physical health care costs. This is because people who receive counselling have lower levels of depression, reduced stress in subsequent pregnancies and help to return to work. There is also evidence that Petals’ counselling has a range of other benefits, including with relationships between couples.

Specialist counselling for parents who have lost a baby is not universally available on the NHS despite the severity of the trauma they have experienced. This is a major gap in provision at a time when perinatal mental health services are getting much-needed investment and the NHS as a whole has a planned £20 billion funding increase in the next five years.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said:

There can be few more tragic and distressing circumstances to face in life than the loss of a baby. It is a loss that devastates those who go through it and has a profound, lifelong impact on the parents of the lost child. It is a form of bereavement that has not always been understood or accepted as well as it should have been. As a result, the suffering and the trauma are made all the worse.

“Yet when women lose their babies in the most tragic and traumatic of circumstances, effective help isn’t always there. While health workers do their best to help, and bereavement support is offered in the immediate aftermath, long-term support is still not routinely offered on the NHS to those who have experienced the death of a baby.

“The service offered by Petals may help to fill that gap. While nothing can take away the pain of loss, its counselling service can help parents to process what has happened to them and to rebuild their lives in the context of that tragedy.”

Karen Burgess, Chief Executive and Founder of Petals, said: “Petals has been delivering a free, specialist counselling service for parents who suffer the devastation of baby loss for 6 years. ‘Life after loss’ brings together the evidence and experience of our work to effectively illustrate why our unique psychological intervention should and could be available to every bereaved parent”.

A bereaved mother and former client of Petals said: “Petals was the lifeline my husband and I needed so desperately when our daughter was stillborn at full term. We were referred to them immediately, and over time our counsellor helped us to process the grief and trauma we’d experienced as well as the shame, anger and isolation that I know now is so common for parents who lose their baby. Without them we wouldn’t have been able to find a way to carry her death with us for the rest our lives. I honestly don’t know how other bereaved parents cope without the kind of specialist psychological support Petals offers.”