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Obstetricians also get traumatized during difficult deliveries

It’s every parent’s nightmare – stillbirth and perinatal death. But how do such tragic events affect the obstetricians (OBs) attending the delivery?

Apparently, even doctors medically trained in childbirth can be traumatized by deaths of infants they delivered. OBs are trained to deal with new life and delivering good news. But it seems some lack the training to deal with death.

A survey by researchers at the University of Michigan shows that about 1 in every 10 OBs (approximately 80%) has thought of giving up obstetric practice at one point because of the emotional difficulty in dealing with tragic cases of delivery. Emotions the OBs have to deal with are guilt, anxiety, and stress.

About 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage before the 20th week of gestation. In such cases, the survival chance of the baby is almost nil. Other pregnancies may go to full-term but for one reason or another, result in stillbirth. Other cases result in perinatal deaths, that is, infants do not survive beyond the first year (though most perinatal deaths occur within the first few weeks of delivery).

Every year, an OB will perform, on the average, 140 deliveries. It is expected that they would encounter cases of difficult deliveries resulting in infant death. When a delivery ends tragically, the main focus is on the needs of the family. However, the emotional toll of such a case on the medical staff, be it an OB or a midwife, is often overlooked.

Aside from guilt, OBs suffer from anxiety over lawsuits. It seems that stillbirth is the second most common ground for lawsuits against OBs in the US. The first is neurological damage to a surviving baby during delivery.

For many OBs, dealing with death is not simply part of the job. Suggestions to help emotionally devastated OBs include training in dealing with death and bereavement, informal gatherings among OBs to discuss problematic cases, as well as meeting with bereaved parents.

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