February Research Update

Group psychoeducation with relaxation for severe fear of childbirth improves maternal adjustment and childbirth experience – a randomised controlled trial.

Rouhe, H, Salmela-Aro, K., Toivanen, R., Tokola, M., Halmesmäki, E., Ryding, E. L., Saisto, T.


Background: Previous studies on the treatment of women with fear of childbirth have focused on the delivery mode. Women with fear of childbirth often suffer from anxiety and/or depression, and treatment therefore also needs to target postnatal psychological well-being and the early mother-infant relationship. Methods: Three hundred and seventy-one nulliparous women out of 4575 scored ≥100 in prospective screening (Wijma Delivery Expectancy Questionnaire, W-DEQ-A), indicating severe fear of childbirth. These women were randomised to psychoeducative group intervention with relaxation (n = 131; six sessions during pregnancy, one postnatal) or to conventional care (n = 240) by community nurses (referral if necessary). Psycho-emotional and psychosocial evaluations [Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), social support, Maternal Adjustment and Attitudes (MAMA), Traumatic Events Scale (TES) and the Wijma Delivery Experience Questionnaire (W-DEQ-B)] were completed twice during pregnancy and/or 3 months postpartum. Results: Postnatal maternal adjustment (MAMA mean score 38.1 ± 4.3 versus 35.7 ± 5.0, p = 0.001) and childbirth experience (mean W-DEQ-B sum score 63.0 ± 29 versus 73.7 ± 32, p = 0.008) were better in the intervention group compared with controls. In hierarchical regression, social support, participating in intervention, and less fearful childbirth experience predicted better maternal adjustment. The level of postnatal depressive symptoms was significantly lower in the intervention group (mean sum score 6.4 ± 5.4 versus 8.0 ± 5.9 p = 0.04). There were no differences in the frequency of post-traumatic stress symptoms between the groups. Conclusions: In nulliparous women with severe fear of childbirth, participation in a targeted psychoeducative group resulted in better maternal adjustment, a less fearful childbirth experience and fewer postnatal depressive symptoms, compared with conventional care.


Mothers’ experience of their contact with their stillborn infant: An interpretative phenomenological analysis

Ryninks, K., Roberts-Collins, C., McKenzie-McHarg, K., Horsch, A.



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.


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.


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.


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.


“A renewed sense of purpose”: Mothers’ and fathers’ experience of having a child following a recent stillbirth

Campbell-Jackson, L., Bezance, J., Horsch, A.



Most research has focused on mothers’ experiences of perinatal loss itself or on the subsequent pregnancy, whereas little attention has been paid to both parents’ experiences of having a child following late perinatal loss and the experience of parenting this child. The current study therefore explored mothers’ and fathers’ experiences of becoming a parent to a child born after a recent stillbirth, covering the period of the second pregnancy and up to two years after the birth of the next baby.


In depth interviews were conducted with 7 couples (14 participants). Couples were eligible if they previously had a stillbirth (after 24 weeks of gestation) and subsequently had another child (their first live baby) who was now under the age of 2 years. Couples who had more than one child after experiencing a stillbirth and those who were not fluent in English were excluded. Qualitative analysis of the interview data was conducted using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis.


Five superordinate themes emerged from the data: Living with uncertainty; Coping with uncertainty; Relationship with the next child; The continuing grief process; Identity as a parent. Overall, fathers’ experiences were similar to those of mothers’, including high levels of anxiety and guilt during the subsequent pregnancy and after the child was born. Coping strategies to address these were identified. Differences between mothers and fathers regarding the grief process during the subsequent pregnancy and after their second child was born were identified. Despite difficulties with bonding during pregnancy and at the time when the baby was born, parents’ perceptions of their relationship with their subsequent child were positive.


Findings highlight the importance of tailoring support systems not only according to mothers’ but also to fathers’ needs. Parents’, and particularly fathers’, reported lack of opportunities for grieving as well as the high level of anxiety of both parents about their baby’s wellbeing during pregnancy and after birth implies a need for structured support. Difficulties experienced in bonding with the subsequent child during pregnancy and once the child is born need to be normalised.


Where is the baby from, why is it here? Creative ways of working with dissociated states in private practice.

Standish, L.


Through one clinical example involving complex post-traumatic stress disorder, this paper explores the ways in which the psychoanalytic psychotherapist may need to find creative ways of working which incorporate findings from neuroscience whilst holding the basic frame and methods of the traditional psychoanalytic approach. This entails bringing knowledge of how the body (including the brain) works into the consulting room. In particular, the author describes ways of accompanying the patient during florid flashbacks to chronic and severe childhood abuse and of using grounding techniques afterwards, so that anxiety levels can be sufficiently contained for the necessary therapeutic work to take place. The role of supervision is also explored in terms of how the dynamic of rescuer/ victim/persecutor may be played out in the supervisory relationship. Unusually, some of the patient’s own reflections, written at the end of the therapy, have been incorporated into the paper. Consideration is given to whether departures from standard psychoanalytic technique constitute boundary violations or useful enactments, which can be seen as a form of creativity which enables the work to move on.


Posttraumatic Stress and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder after Termination of Pregnancy and Reproductive Loss: A Systematic Review.

Daugirdaitė, V., van den Akker, O., Purewal, S.


Objective. The aims of this systematic review were to integrate the research on posttraumatic stress (PTS) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after termination of pregnancy (TOP), miscarriage, perinatal death, stillbirth, neonatal death, and failed in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Methods. Electronic databases (AMED, British Nursing Index, CINAHL, MEDLINE, SPORTDiscus, PsycINFO, PubMEd, ScienceDirect) were searched for articles using PRISMA guidelines. Results. Data from 48 studies were included. Quality of the research was generally good. PTS/PTSD has been investigated in TOP and miscarriage more than perinatal loss, stillbirth, and neonatal death. In all reproductive losses and TOPs, the prevalence of PTS was greater than PTSD, both decreased over time, and longer gestational age is associated with higher levels of PTS/PTSD. Women have generally reported more PTS or PTSD than men. Sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., younger age, lower education, and history of previoustraumas or mental health problems) and psychsocial factors influence PTS and PTSD after TOP and reproductive loss. Conclusions. This systematic review is the first to investigate PTS/PTSD after reproductive loss. Patients with advanced pregnancies, a history of previous traumas, mental health problems, and adverse psychosocial profiles should be considered as high risk for developing PTS or PTSD following reproductive.



Trauma and traumatic loss in pregnant adolescents: the impact of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy on maternal unresolved states of mind and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Madigan, S., Vaillancourt, K., McKibbon, A., Benoit, D.


Pregnant adolescents are a group at high risk for exposure to traumatic experiences. The present study aimed to examine if Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT) typically applied to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), could also be applied to unresolved states of mind in a sample of socially at-risk pregnant adolescents. Forty-three adolescents who were in their second trimester of pregnancy and who also had positive indices of unresolved states of mind or symptoms of PTSD were randomly assigned to either the treatment as usual (parenting classes) or intervention (parenting classes + TF-CBT) group. Adolescent mother-infant dyads were then re-assessed at infant ages 6 and 12 months on a broad range of measures, including those specific to attachment, as well as to PTSD, and adolescent behavioral adjustment. Twenty-six of the 43 (60%) recruited subjects completed all components of the study protocol. Although there were no significant effects of the TF-CBT intervention on maternal attachment, infant attachment, PTSD diagnosis and adolescent behavioral adjustment, several study limitations restrict our ability to draw firm conclusions about the efficacy of TF-CBT for use in pregnant adolescents with complex trauma. The discussion offers insight and guidance for clinical work and future intervention research efforts with this vulnerable population.



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