real life

Holding stillborn children: more traumatic?

A University of Queensland researcher is concerned parents who hold their stillborn children, or bathe them, experience higher rates of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr Kelly Cunningham reviewed studies that had already been conducted, some of which appeared to show parents who held their stillborn children experienced higher levels of anxiety (particularly in subsequent pregnancies) and were reportedly more likely to break up.

While she questioned current guidelines from the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand, Dr Cunningham ultimately agreed parents should not be forced to make a decision about how to cope with their stillborn child:

”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.

Emma McLeod, the founder of the Stillbirth Foundation Australia, told Mamamia questioning guidelines that allowed parents choice was ‘antiquated’.

“A lot of these studies have found what we already know,” she said.

“Unfortunately we already know, from the decades before the 1980s, that forcing parents to make one decision or another is wrong. I agree with the guidelines as they are now, that parents should be supported to make the choice that suits them.

“We know some 90 per cent of parents choose to hold their child after it is stillborn, although of course some don’t for cultural or various other reasons.

“I’d say that any parent, whether they held their child or not, would have high levels of stress during their next pregnancy. Right now, I can tell you, I have no regret that I held my daughter.”

Heartfelt is an organisation of photographers who volunteer to photograph parents and their children who were stillborn. Read more about it here. Here is some of that work:

Are you someone, or do you know someone, who had a stillborn son or daughter? Did you or they get to see them, or hold them?

If you wish to talk to someone about difficult circumstances in your own life, phone Lifeline on 13 11 414.