How physicians cope with stillbirth or neonatal death: a national survey of obstetricians

Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Jul;112(1):29-34. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e31817d0582.


Objective: To identify U.S. obstetricians' experiences and attitudes about perinatal death, their coping strategies, and their beliefs about the adequacy of their training on this topic.

Methods: A total of 1,500 randomly selected U.S. obstetricians were mailed a self-administered survey about their experiences and attitudes in dealing with perinatal death. Physicians received up to three copies of the survey, a reminder card, and a $2 cash incentive. Eight hundred four physicians (54%) completed the entire survey.

Results: Seventy-five percent of respondents reported that caring for a patient with a stillbirth took a large emotional toll on them personally, and nearly one in 10 obstetricians reported they had considered giving up obstetric practice because of the emotional difficulty in caring for a patient with a stillbirth. Talking informally with colleagues (87%) or friends and family (56%) were the most common strategies used by physicians to personally cope with these situations.

Conclusion: Perinatal death has a profound effect on the delivering obstetrician, and a significant number of participants in our study have even considered giving up obstetrics altogether. Improved bereavement training may help obstetricians care for grieving families but also cope with their own emotions after this devastating event.

Level of evidence: II.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Death
  • Bereavement
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obstetrics
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Stillbirth / psychology*