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Pediatrics. 2018 May;141(5). pii: e20173651. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-3651.

The Grief of Mothers After the Sudden Unexpected Death of Their Infants.

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Division of General Pediatrics, Departments of Medicine and
Survey and Data Management Core, and.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Department of Psychiatry, and.
Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa; and.
Department of Pediatrics, Sanford School of Medicine, University of South Dakota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Pathology, Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts.
Center for Research on End-of-Life Care, Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University, New York, New York.


: media-1vid110.1542/5741323271001PEDS-VA_2017-3651Video Abstract BACKGROUND: The loss of a child is associated with elevated grief severity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of postneonatal mortality in the United States. The diagnosis of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) has gained broader acceptance and use. Little is known about PGD in mothers after SIDS.


Between May 2013 and July 2016, we assessed 49 SIDS-bereaved mothers living in informal settlements near Cape Town, South Africa, and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and 359 SIDS-bereaved mothers affiliated with SIDS parent-support organizations in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. We examined PGD symptom severity and diagnostic prevalence rates between the samples and other significant grief indicators during the period 2 to 48 months after the deaths of their infants.


Extremely high, persistent, and similar rates of PGD were found in both samples at every time interval. The prevalence of PGD was 50.0% in either sample (mean months from loss: 20.5 vs 24.9). Daily, intrusive emotional pain or yearning was found in 68.1% of subjects; yearning was significantly associated with emotional pain (P < .0001). Role confusion and anger were the most prevalent symptoms, reported by the majority at every time interval. Rates of role confusion, anger, and diminished trust in others remained constant. Acceptance was less prevalent than other grief indicators at every interval.


Severe symptoms and heightened risk for PGD was seen in mothers after their infants died of SIDS, with discernible symptom profiles. Given their involvement with families after SIDS, pediatricians may have a unique role in identifying this problem and helping address its consequences.

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