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A helping hand during a family tragedy

23 July 2015

Press Office

UCLan research leads to new advice for professionals providing support after stillbirth

Research led by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) suggests that professionals need to re-think their approach to supporting parents after the heartbreak of stillbirth.

Stillbirth is a tragedy and parents need a lot of support when a baby dies. At the moment professionals are advised to think twice before letting parents hold a baby who has died. This cautious approach may be wrong. Instead parents should decide what is best for them and professionals should support the parents.

The new advice comes from a research team led by UCLan’s Senior Research Fellow Dr Carol Kingdon, who is based at Liverpool Women’s Hospital. The team has just published an overview of research into the role of healthcare professionals in supporting parents to see and hold their stillborn baby.

Lead author Dr Kingdon, from the School of Health, said: “Some current guidance for the management of stillbirth recommends that healthcare professionals should not encourage contact with a stillborn baby.

“Health professionals’ involvement and commitment to memory making is an essential component of appropriate and compassionate care.”

“Professionals should support any parent who says they want to hold their baby. Our results suggest that healthcare professionals should actively inform parents of their options for contact with the baby following stillbirth and repeatedly offer these opportunities to parents in a way that is sensitive to each parent. We found parents perceive an unmet need for increased guidance from staff, missed opportunities, and decisions made at the time giving rise to feelings of regret.

“All parents want to get to know their baby. Some parents do not have the chance to choose how to meet their baby at the time of birth. The time immediately after birth is the only time parents can make these memories of a stillborn baby. Health professionals’ involvement and commitment to memory making is an essential component of appropriate and compassionate care.”

Co-author Dr Mark Turner, a Consultant Neonatologist at Liverpool Women’s Hospital, said: “The clinical management of stillbirth is known to vary within organisations, between individuals and is subject to change over time. Our findings show how professionals can support parents to make appropriate decisions in unique, highly charged and changing situations.

“The review brings together research studies from all over the world to offer new insights that inform practice. Looking at all the studies together gives a better view of what is important to parents than individual studies and adds to the experiences of one professional or one team.”

“Our vision is to provide an invaluable service for women and their families following any loss, including miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death.”

This new review provides information that is valuable to both families experiencing stillbirth and all professionals providing care around that time. Liverpool Women’s has a specialist bereavement service, the Honeysuckle Team, whose work compliments the care of midwives on the Delivery Suite.

Midwife and nurse Marie Kelleher from the Honeysuckle Team said: “Our vision is to provide an invaluable service for women and their families following any loss, including miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. We aim to help families create positive memories at such an emotive time in their lives.

“This research encapsulates much of what we do when a baby is stillborn. The team launched in 2014 to provide information, advice and emotional support in all aspects of bereavement care. Together we ensure parents are fully aware of and understand all the choices open to them, ensuring their family’s cultural and religious traditions are respected. We are committed to treating all babies, parents and their families with compassion, dignity and respect.”

Read the full publication.