Should Mom See Her Stillborn Baby?
Study Questions if It's Always the Best Option
"This is a very individual decision, and our findings suggest there is no justification for telling parents that not seeing their baby could interfere with the grieving process," she tells WebMD. "Healthcare staff need to be sensitive to what parents can cope with and not encourage them to do something they don't feel up to doing."
Child loss expert Deborah L. Davis, PhD, says in her experience most parents benefit from seeing and holding babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth. But she agrees that grieving parents should not be told that such contact is the only "healthy" way to react to such a loss. Davis is the author of the book, Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby.
"It is important for healthcare providers to remember that every parent in this situation is on their own journey, and that it is not for us to force them to take one path or another," she says. "Rather than being overzealous and telling parents that they will regret it for the rest of their life if they don't do this, they need to encourage parents to follow their intuition and their hearts."
A spokesperson for the pregnancy and infant loss support group SHARE expressed surprise at the U.K. findings. Susan Weitcamp says most parents find it healing to have memories of their stillborn babies.
"We've found that parents tend to regret it if they don't hold their child, but we don't push the issue," she says. "Some parents say they don't want contact, but then change their minds."
Brenda Hecht agrees there is no one-size-fits-all approach that is right for everyone. Hecht and her husband now work with SHARE to help other parents dealing with the loss of a newborn.
"You can't assume that someone in this situation will want what you want or be feeling what you were feeling," she says. "Everybody is different and every situation is different."