Men's grief following pregnancy and neonatal loss
Every year, millions of families worldwide experience the loss of their baby before or shortly after birth. In Australia, one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, six babies per day are stillborn and up to 1000 babies lose their fight for life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) each year.
Although care and support services for grieving parents and families have improved in the last few decades, fathers frequently report feeling as though they are the “forgotten mourners” following the loss of a baby, and carry the responsibility to support their female partner and family. In Australia, there is limited research into men’s experiences of grief following a loss and their subsequent supports needs. Our research aims to improve the understanding of men’s grief and bereavement following pregnancy loss and neonatal death to inform bereavement care guidelines and support services for fathers.
Research note on men’s experiences of returning to work following pregnancy loss and neonatal death, published in Community, Work and Family.
A Systematic review on men’s grief following pregnancy loss and neonatal death, published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.
National survey and interviews
In 2019, we surveyed over 250 Australian men on their experiences of grief following pregnancy loss and neonatal death to further explore men’s experience of grief and factors which contribute to grief. The results of this study are currently under review for publication.
We also completed follow-up interviews with survey participants who had experienced a neonatal death or termination of pregnancy for foetal anomalies. The results of these interviews are currently being prepared for publication.
More about our completed studies
Men’s experiences of workplace leave
In September 2019, the Australian Government announced new policy which will provide parents with up to 12 months of unpaid leave following a stillbirth. In our national survey, we asked men questions about their experiences of leave provisions and support upon their return to work after a loss.
We found that returning to work too soon took an emotional toll on men across loss types. Although some men had supportive employers, others experienced little recognition or understanding for their grief. Only 17% of men were offered parental leave; others relied on various forms of bereavement or compassionate leave, sick/carers or annual leave, and leave without pay. 35% of men were offered additional supports, including counselling, Employee Assistance Programs, or flexible work arrangements. Although not all men wished to take extended (or any) paid leave following pregnancy loss or neonatal death, they believed leave should be available.
This research recommended a national, standardised approach to leave provision and additional support to ensure men’s grief is recognised and adequate support is provided upon return to work.
To develop a comprehensive understanding of men’s grief, we have reviewed the literature on men’s experiences of grief following pregnancy/neonatal loss published in the last 20 years, looking at two research questions:
- What are men’s experiences of grief following pregnancy loss or neonatal loss?
- What are the predictors of men’s grief following loss?
The findings were presented at the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand (PSANZ) 2019 Congress on the Gold Coast, and the 2019 International Stillbirth Alliance Conference in Madrid, Spain.
Interviews with men
An Australian-first interview study on men’s experiences of support following pregnancy loss (including miscarriage and stillbirth). Our results suggested that men have highly individualised experiences of grief and varied support needs. Many of the participants experienced a lack of social recognition from family, friends and community in relation to their grief, which complicated their experience and recovery. Counselling and support groups were helpful to some men, however, others reported preferring more informal options such as catching up with another male who understood their experience or participating in fundraising events. Importantly, this research identified a need for further research on men’s grief following pregnancy loss to inform the development of future support services.
Interviews with service providers
As part of the study on men’s experiences of pregnancy loss, we also interviewed service providers (including nurses, midwives, grief counsellors and social workers) on their experiences of supporting men following pregnancy loss. Although men’s grief is highly individualised, participants in this study highlighted a need to recognise and address the additional expectations and responsibilities that may compound men’s experience. To better support men, participants also described the need for creative strategies and use of inclusive language that promotes engagement of men throughout the pregnancy and loss experience.
Read the full paper.
Australian Stillbirth Senate Inquiry
In 2018, the Senate established an inquiry into stillbirth in Australia and highlighted the need for future investment in stillbirth research and education. We contributed our research on men to advocate for the needs of bereaved fathers following stillbirth. The final report and recommendations were tabled in December 2018. Our findings were included in chapter six on improving the quality of bereavement care and recommendation nine acknowledged the need for bereavement support to address the specific needs of bereaved fathers along with siblings, grandparents and other family members.
Read the report.
Contact the researchers
For more information on this program of research, or questions on how to get involved, please contact the researchers:
Kate Obst email@example.com or (08) 8313 6972
Dr Clemence Due firstname.lastname@example.org or (08) 8313 6096
Dr Melissa Oxlad email@example.com
Associate Professor Philippa Middleton firstname.lastname@example.org
Further support and information
If you require support or wish to speak to someone about your loss, please contact the following pregnancy/neonatal loss support services:
SANDS (Stillborn and Neonatal Death Support) support lines
Bears of Hope Grief Support
Red Nose Grief and Loss Support
SIDS and Kids SA
Free professional counselling and bereavement support to South Australian families who have experienced a loss during pregnancy, stillbirth and neonatal loss, as well as any sudden death up to 7 years of age.
Crisis Line available 24/7: 1300 799 656
Pillars of Strength
The Compassionate Friends Australia
For information on stillbirth awareness and research:
We thank the following organisations for their support:
Ms Obst is receiving funding for this research from an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship and a Westpac Scholars Trust 2018 Future Leaders Scholarship.