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2014 Press Releases

Spiritual and pastoral care following stillbirth

24 Jul 2014

The first research study into the impact of stillbirth on healthcare chaplains who care for bereaved parents has been published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care

This study was carried out by Mr Daniel Nuzum & Dr Keelin O’Donoghue based in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UCC at Cork University Maternity Hospital.

Stillbirth is a sad but not infrequent reality for all who work in maternity hospitals.  One in 200 babies is stillborn in Ireland every year.  The care provided to families following the death of a baby influences their grief journey and plays a key part in their overall recovery.  The diagnosis that a baby will not survive or has already died in utero brings with it a bewildering array of emotional distress where birth and death collide with life-long impact for the parents.  How parents are cared for during this delicate time can have long-lasting consequences, both positive and negative.

The objective of this study was to research the lived experience of healthcare chaplains working in maternity hospitals as they provide spiritual and pastoral care for parents who have been given the news that their baby has died. The study involved 85% of maternity hospitals in Ireland.

Key findingsHealthcare chaplains experience considerable impact and challenge to their personal faith and belief as they provide care to grieving parents.There is widespread diversity in practice and training of healthcare chaplains in Ireland, when it comes to the provision of spiritual and pastoral care following stillbirth.  The provision of specialised spiritual care by chaplains who are not professionally trained and accredited potentially impacts the quality and depth of care to parents.

This study highlights that it is time to acknowledge the human and professional impact of stillbirth on healthcare chaplains.  It reveals a very human insight into the personal burden of stillbirth.  It also highlights awareness on the part of healthcare chaplains of what bereaved parents experience when faced with this tragedy.  Some key recommendations from this study:

Recognition of the personal impact and emotional burden of stillbirth is an important step towards fostering a more supportive professional environment for healthcare chaplains.The provision of specialist training in perinatal bereavement care for all healthcare chaplains. 

“Our study revealed the considerable personal and professional impact of stillbirth on chaplains that, without training and support, could have serious consequences for their well-being.  The depth of emotion experienced and expressed by our study participants highlights the demanding nature of this ministry and the importance of adequate training and support to enable them to carry out their role.  Due to the diversity of practice among healthcare chaplains, we would recommend a standardised approach so that all bereaved parents receive a consistently high level of care and support following the death of their baby.” Daniel Nuzum, primary author.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF