Date: May 21 2012
Parents of stillborn babies should not always be encouraged to hold and cuddle their dead child but should be offered the choice to see their baby, a researcher says.
University of Queensland researcher Kelly Cunningham says there's some evidence that the practice can lead to higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in mothers.
Dr Cunningham says parents should be able to choose whether or not to see their baby's body and must receive unbiased advice to help them with their decision.
In an article published today in The Medical Journal of Australia, she questions current medical practice in which parents are told they can hold and bathe their stillborn baby.
''The majority of current guidelines recommend that parents be encouraged to see and hold their dead child,'' she wrote.
But Dr Cunningham said there was conflicting evidence about any benefits to parents.
The practice is widespread - Swedish and English research showed 90 per cent of mothers of stillborn children held their babies afterwards.
But some studies showed women who had held their babies reported higher levels of anxiety and post-traumatic stress during subsequent pregnancies.
Couples who had held their stillborn children were also significantly more likely to break up.
On the other hand, mothers who actively wanted to see and hold their babies suffered lower symptoms of depression.
Dr Cunningham said it was not possible to directly compare the various studies because they used different populations, tools and measures of outcomes.
She said overall, it appeared that the negative symptoms experienced by many parents were transient and were mostly exacerbated when the woman became pregnant again after the stillbirth.
''There does not appear to be clear evidence of a benefit for parents in holding a stillborn child, so it would seem that the most appropriate approach, given the available evidence, would be to support the parents to make their own choice,'' she said.
Dr Cunningham said unbiased advice about whether or not to see the child was essential because most parents made the choice that was expected of them.
''Persuasion of a reluctant parent may add to the trauma of the experience and consequent adverse psychological outcomes,'' she wrote.Natasha Rudra
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