According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 25,000 infants die in the United States every year. This is a small portion of the nearly four million babies born annually, but the stillbirth rate is much higher, at 1 out of 160 pregnancies. The loss of a child is widely regarded as one of the most stressful experiences anyone ever faces, but data from the Michigan Mother’s Study suggests that women are not getting sufficient help to cope with the suffering associated with perinatal death.
Perinatal Death’s Devastating Mental Health Effects
According to Dr. Katherine J. Gold’s analysis of data gleaned from the Michigan Mother’s Study, women who lost newborns or who experienced stillbirths had worse mental health than other women. The study looked at 377 mothers who had lost babies and 232 who had not. It found that, among bereaved mothers, the rate of depression was 23%, compared to 8% among mothers in the control group.
Forty-one percent of mothers who lost children experienced posttraumatic stress, compared to 12% among women who had not lost babies. The rates of other mental health issues showed similar disparities—19% versus 7% for general anxiety, 12% versus 6% for panic disorder, and 19% versus 6% for social phobia.violence. But the difference between the two groups remained. Interestingly, the rates of mental health challenges among women who experienced a stillbirth were similar to the rates experienced by women whose newborns had died, suggesting that stillbirth can be just as traumatic as losing a child in infancy.
Better Care for Grieving Mothers
Women who survive the loss of a child don’t always get the care they need, and minority women are even less likely to get sufficient care. The study found that African-American women suffered just as much as white women, but were less likely to seek help.
Losing a child can be overwhelming, and many women experience other traumas as part of the experience. For example, some women have to labor to give birth to a stillborn child, while women whose children die after birth may agonize over medical decision-making. Women who experience these challenges can benefit from a wide variety of treatment options. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, works well for depression, and antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may help women recover from the loss more quickly.
The March of Dimes is one of many organizations dedicated to helping parents cope with the loss of a child. If you’re struggling after losing a baby, visit their website, which offers resources and community-based services for both mothers and fathers who have lost children.
- Infant health. (2014, February 25). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infant_health.htm
- Stillbirth. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.marchofdimes.com/loss/stillbirth.aspx
- Worcester, S. (2014, April 25). Perinatal loss dramatically affects maternal mental health. Retrieved from http://www.clinicalpsychiatrynews.com/home/article/perinatal-loss-dramatically-affects-maternal-mental-health/61dc3d7ed5668e2890d4c1c35fd6141f.html
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