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Researching the heartbreak behind stillbirth and miscarriage

A new study by researchers at the University of Adelaide will help improve care for those who have gone through miscarriage or stillbirth.

University of Adelaide Masters of Clinical Psychology student Catherine Collins said that there is not much research about women’s experiences with pregnancy loss, and how it can impact a woman’s relationships with others. Most research into the issue only touches upon medical conditions associated with loss of pregnancy and the mental illness it can cause, while little research has concentrated on the grief and sadness that follows.

"Our research focuses on women's emotional experience of pregnancy loss, the impact of this on relationships with partners and children, and women's experience of support from the health care system," Collins said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 1748 stillbirths recorded after 20 weeks of gestation in Australia in 2011. It was also reported that around 15–20 per cent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage prior to 20 weeks of gestation. Some pregnancies are also terminated due to irregularities found in the fetus.

To further highlight the impact of miscarriage, Collins cited a current study in US which showed a higher rate of divorce reported following stillbirth and miscarriage, with 29 per cent of women who had miscarried had since divorced their husbands. Meanwhile divorce among all women was attributed to only 17 per cent.

The researcher stressed that even though there is an increase in research about grief in the last few years, there exists little understanding of the incidence, as well as its impact and the duration of grief.

She says the study will advance understanding of how women are affected by losing a child during pregnancy. She said that doing so will equip health care professionals with ideas on how women who had miscarried or have experienced stillbirths think and feel in order to better provide care for these women.

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