Study Identifies Lasting Effects of Perinatal Loss

young-woman-crying-outside-050814According 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.

Dr. Gold controlled for other factors that might have contributed to the disparities, such as social support, a previous history of mental health challenges, and experiencing interpersonal 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.

References:

  1. Infant health. (2014, February 25). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infant_health.htm
  2. Stillbirth. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.marchofdimes.com/loss/stillbirth.aspx
  3. 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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  • Stef

    Stef

    May 9th, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    I love my babies so much and the htought of losing one of them makes me hurt so bad. I can’t even imagine the shock and the pain that any parent would feel when they have lost their child. It would seem to me to be a pain and a grief that you would never get over. I also know that when this happens the tendencies of some people will be to say things like they do when a woman miscarries, like it wasn’t meant to be or something insane like that. These words do not comfort, do not take away the pain and in many cases only lead to even more hurt and confusion.

  • Jessalyn

    Jessalyn

    May 9th, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    I would not have expected this to be anything any different.

    I mean, are you surprised that more moms who have lost a child are depressed and struggle with PTSD than those who have not?

  • Audra

    Audra

    May 10th, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    Maybe there are some women who deal with this in a different way than what others so. The reason that I say this is because my grandmother lost two of her children in infancy but yet she could always talk about it like it was no huge deal to her anymore, not like she didn’t care but it didn’t seem to impact her on the level that you see with so many moms who live through this. I don’t know what it was like when she was younger and it was all happening to her but I am thinking that maybe as she got older then the pain for her subsided a little bit? I will admit that I always thought it strange that there was so little emotion there but I know she was a tough woman and she could have just had her own way of dealing with things.

  • Julianne

    Julianne

    May 13th, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    To be honest with you I don’t think that there is a whole lot of support available for women who have lost their children. I think that there are a whole lot of people who expect you to grieve and then to one day wake up and be over it. I don’t think that for most of grief works this way and it is a lot harder to move on than some people make it out to be. This will be something that is very different for anyone who has experienced it, and not matter how old you are or how old the child is the loss will always be the same and there will not be a wya to fill that void that the loss of a child will create in you.

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