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Background: Guidelines surrounding maternal contact with the stillborn infant have been contradictory over the past thirty years. Most studies have reported that seeing and holding the stillborn baby is associated with fewer anxiety and depressive symptoms among mothers of stillborn babies than not doing so. In contrast, others studies suggest that contact with the stillborn infant can lead to poorer maternal mental health outcomes. There is a lack of research focusing on the maternal experience of this contact. The present study aimed to investigate how mothers describe their experience of spending time with their stillborn baby and how they felt retrospectively about the decision they made to see and hold their baby or not.Method: In depth interviews were conducted with twenty-one mothers three months after stillbirth. All mothers had decided to see and the majority to hold their baby. Qualitative analysis of the interview data was performed using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis.Results: Six superordinate themes were identified: Characteristics of Contact, Physicality; Emotional Experience; Surreal Experience; Finality; and Decision. Having contact with their stillborn infant provided mothers with time to process what had happened, to build memories, and to 'say goodbye', often sharing the experience with partners and other family members. The majority of mothers felt satisfied with their decision to spend time with their stillborn baby. Several mothers talked about their fear of seeing a damaged or dead body. Some mothers experienced strong disbelief and dissociation during the contact.Conclusions: Results indicate that preparation before contact with the baby, professional support during the contact, and professional follow-up are crucial in order to prevent the development of maternal mental health problems. Fears of seeing a damaged or dead body should be sensitively explored and ways of coping discussed. Even in cases where mothers experienced intense distress during the contact with their stillborn baby, they still described that having had this contact was important and that they had taken the right decision. This indicates a need for giving parents an informed choice by engaging in discussions about the possible benefits and risks of seeing their stillborn baby. © 2014 Ryninks et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
Ryninks, K., Roberts-Collins, C., McKenzie-McHarg, K., & Horsch, A. (2014). Mothers’ experience of their contact with their stillborn infant: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2393-14-203