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When Babies Die, Obstetricians Suffer, Too

Stillbirths, infant deaths caused one in 10 docs to consider giving up practice, survey says

MONDAY, July 21 (HealthDay News) -- The emotional toll of stillbirths and infant deaths has led one in 10 obstetricians to consider giving up their practice, according to a University of Michigan Health System survey of 804 obstetricians.

About three-quarters of the respondents said stillbirths and infant deaths had a profound effect due to feelings such as anxiety, guilt and stress. The findings were published in the July issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

"We know that stillbirth and infant death are traumatic events for families; this study suggests that they are also traumatic for the physician," study author Dr. Katherine Gold, of U-M's departments of family medicine and of obstetrics and gynecology, said in a news release.

A typical American obstetrician performing 140 deliveries a year could deal with almost two dozen women with a miscarriage and one to two women with stillbirth or infant death, the researchers said.

"Obstetricians want to see a healthy baby. When a fetus or baby dies, the loss can be devastating for the physician. Half of the time, the medical cause of a stillbirth is unknown, but physicians may struggle with feelings of guilt or self-blame," Gold said. "When a fetus or baby dies, we focus on the family's needs, but obstetricians are often struggling with their own emotions, too."

The survey also found that 43 percent of obstetricians said they worried about disciplinary or legal action due to a perinatal death with no identified cause. Stillbirths are the second leading reason for lawsuits against U.S. obstetricians.

The findings also suggested that improved training would help obstetricians. Those who said they'd had adequate bereavement training were less likely to report having considered leaving practice due to the emotional toll of perinatal death. And respondents who believed their training was adequate were less likely to worry about disciplinary or legal action when cause of death was unknown.

Two-thirds of the respondents supported the idea of training by formal presentations or seminars, and almost half backed informal gatherings for obstetricians to discuss difficult experiences. Many said a meeting with bereaved parents would be a helpful training approach.

More information

The Compassionate Friends has more about stillbirth, miscarriage and infant death.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, June 30, 2008

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