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Experiences of student midwives in the care of women with perinatal loss: A qualitative descriptive study

02 October 2016
16 min read
Volume 24 · Issue 10

Abstract

Background:

Student midwives often encounter perinatal loss, such as stillbirth and neonatal death, as part of their experience of clinical practice. Coping with these events can be challenging because loss and death are the antitheses of birth, which predominates midwifery practice. There has been limited research on how student midwives are supported when caring for women with bereavement; however, poor support may have repercussions for future practice.

Aim:

The aim of this study is to explore the experiences of final-year student midwives when caring for women with perinatal loss.

Methods:

Two focus groups were conducted with 10 final-year BSc (Hons) Midwifery students. The focus groups lasted approximately 1 hour and used a semi-structured interview schedule. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Findings:

Four key themes were identified from the data: preparation for perinatal loss; ‘just dealing with it’; contradiction and challenges with the role of the midwife; and emotional impact and coping strategies.

Conclusions:

Final-year student midwives believed they were ill-prepared in caring for women with perinatal loss, reported difficulties in communicating with women and believed they were excluded from their care. Students valued support from the bereavement midwife and identified effective strategies which helped them cope with bereavement and loss.

Around 1/200 births in the UK result in stillbirth and about 1/400 infants die within the first 4 weeks of life (Office for National Statistics, 2015). Those women who experience perinatal loss (as a result of childbirth) have considerable emotional and psychological needs (Mills, 2015). Bereaved parents' interactions with health professionals often have a profound effect on their capacity to cope with their loss, and this may have consequences if care is poorly managed (Downe et al, 2013). While many student midwives may have some experience of dealing with death during pregnancy or childbirth (Mitchell, 2005), midwifery education and textbooks have been shown to fall short of providing essential, practical information regarding perinatal loss and the management of bereavement for families (Cameron et al, 2008). As a result, midwifery students may not have the necessary skills to guide parents through this difficult time, and may be vulnerable to grief themselves (Cameron et al, 2008).

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