Parents bereaved by infant death: PTSD symptoms up to 18 years after the loss

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2013 Nov-Dec;35(6):605-11. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2013.06.006. Epub 2013 Jul 23.


Objective: Losing an infant or fetus late in pregnancy, during birth or in the first year of life is a potentially traumatic event for parents. However, little is known about the factors contributing to chronic posttraumatic stress reactions in this population. The present study examined chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and potential correlates in 634 mothers and fathers up to 18 years (M=3.4 years) after the death of their infant.

Methods: Members of a private national support organization for parents bereaved by infant death were contacted and asked to participate in the study. Participants filled out a questionnaire package including measures of PTSD (the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire), coping (the Coping Style Questionnaire), perceived social support (the Crisis Support Scale) and attachment (the Revised Adult Attachment Scale). Associations between variables were examined through the use of analyses of variance, correlation analyses and a regression analysis.

Results: We found an estimated PTSD prevalence of 12.3%. Type of loss (pre-, peri- or postnatal) did not have any effect on PTSD severity, but lower gestational age was associated with more symptoms. Time since the loss, female sex, attachment avoidance, attachment anxiety, emotion-focused coping, rational coping, feeling let down and social support satisfaction accounted for 42% of the variance in PTSD severity.

Conclusions: The study highlights the long-term impact of infant loss and points to attachment, coping and social support as important contributors to the development and maintenance of posttraumatic stress symptoms.

Keywords: Attachment; Bereavement; Coping; Infant death; PTSD; Social support.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / psychology*
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bereavement*
  • Death*
  • Female
  • Fetal Death
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Regression Analysis
  • Social Support*
  • Stillbirth / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult