Who tells a mother her baby has died? Communication and staff presence during stillbirth delivery and early infant death

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

Perinatal loss (stillbirth or early infant death) is often a sudden, unexpected event for families. We evaluated who communicates the loss to the parents and who is there for support at the delivery or death.

STUDY DESIGN:

We conducted a mail survey of 900 bereaved and 500 live-birth mothers to assess emotional, physical and reproductive health outcomes.

RESULTS:

We had a 44% response rate at 9 months after birth or loss from 377 bereaved mothers and 232 with surviving infants. Bereaved women were less likely to have hospital staff or family members present at delivery. African-American (versus Caucasian) mothers were half as likely to have first heard about their stillbirth from a physician or midwife.

CONCLUSION:

This is the first large study documenting who communicates perinatal death to families and who is present for support. Hospitals should be aware that many bereaved families may lack support at critical times.

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