Effects of contact with stillborn babies on maternal anxiety and depression

Birth. 2008 Dec;35(4):313-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-536X.2008.00258.x.


Background: Some guidelines encourage mothers to see and hold their babies after stillbirth, which might be traumatizing. The study objective was to investigate the effects of women seeing and holding their stillborn baby on the risk of anxiety and depression in a subsequent pregnancy and in the long term.

Methods: Thirty-seven organizations recruited women who had experienced stillbirth (N = 2,292 of whom 286 reported being pregnant). Anxiety and depressive symptoms were assessed by using the 25-item Hopkins Symptom Check List.

Results: Among nonpregnant women, seeing and holding their stillborn baby were associated with lower anxiety symptoms (OR 0.68, 95% CI 0.49-0.95) and a tendency toward fewer symptoms of depression (OR 0.72, 95% CI 0.51-1.02), compared with pregnant women. Participants who were pregnant also had less depressive symptomatology (OR 0.57, 95% CI 0.43-0.75), but more symptoms of anxiety if they had seen and held their baby (OR 3.79, 95% CI 1.42-10.1).

Conclusions: Seeing and holding the baby are associated with fewer anxiety and depressive symptoms among mothers of stillborn babies than not doing so, although this beneficial effect may be temporarily reversed during a subsequent pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Death
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Logistic Models
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy
  • Stillbirth / epidemiology
  • Stillbirth / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Surveys and Questionnaires