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PLoS One. 2015 Jul 8;10(7):e0130059. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130059. eCollection 2015.

The Role of Healthcare Professionals in Encouraging Parents to See and Hold Their Stillborn Baby: A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Studies.

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School of Health, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire, United Kingdom.
Department of Women's and Children's Health, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom.



Globally, during 2013 there were three million recorded stillbirths. Where clinical guidelines exist some recommend that professionals do not encourage parental contact. The guidance is based on quantitative evidence that seeing and holding the baby is not beneficial for everyone, but has been challenged by bereaved parents' organisations. We aim to inform future guideline development through a synthesis of qualitative studies reporting data relevant to the research question; how does the approach of healthcare professionals to seeing and holding the baby following stillbirth impact parents views and experiences?


Using a predetermined search strategy of PubMed and PsychINFO we identified robust qualitative studies reporting bereaved parental views and/or experiences relating to seeing and holding their stillborn baby (final search 24 February, 2014). Eligible studies were English language, reporting parental views, with gestational loss >20 weeks. Quality was independently assessed by three authors using a validated tool. We used meta-ethnographic techniques to identify key themes and a line of argument synthesis. We included 12 papers, representing the views of 333 parents (156 mothers, 150 fathers, and 27 couples) from six countries. The final themes were: "[Still]birth: Nature of care is paramount", "Real babies: Perfect beauties, monsters and spectres", and "Opportunity of a lifetime lost." Our line-of-argument synthesis highlights the contrast between all parents need to know their baby, with the time around birth being the only time memories can be made, and the variable ability that parents have to articulate their preferences at that time. Thus, we hypothesised that how health professionals approach contact between parents and their stillborn baby demands a degree of active management. An important limitation of this paper is all included studies originated from high income, westernised countries raising questions about the findings transferability to other cultural contexts. We do not offer new evidence to answer the question "Should parents see and hold their stillborn baby?", instead our findings advance understanding of how professionals can support parents to make appropriate decisions in a novel, highly charged and dynamic situation.


Guidelines could be more specific in their recommendations regarding parental contact. The role of healthcare professionals in encouraging parents to see and hold their stillborn baby is paramount. Parental choice not to see their baby, apprehension, or uncertainty should be continuously revisited in the hours after birth as the opportunity for contact is fleeting and final.

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