Perinatal grief: phases and treatment

Perinatal grief: phases and treatment

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Losing a loved one is always a painful and complicated event that involves a phase of pain and overcoming called grief. When parents suffer the sad loss of the baby they expected, they usually enter the perinatal grief. Today we talk about the characteristics of this universal process that is aimed at acceptance.


  • 1 The perinatal duel
  • 2 Characteristics of perinatal grief
  • 3 Phases of perinatal grief
  • 4 Treatment and help

The perinatal duel

The perinatal grief It refers to the pain parents experience after the death of the baby during pregnancy, childbirth or the first month after birth. This loss usually occurs in cases such as spontaneous abortion, ectopic pregnancy, termination or neonatal deaths. Perinatal grief is experienced by many families and like all grief, it causes great emotional distress and shock.

Some of the people affected by perinatal grief usually deal with pain in their own privacy and sometimes feel that the general society does not openly recognize this suffering, causing them to isolate themselves more in the discomfort that the terrible loss generates.

Therefore, there are many programs and training that are currently being developed to help in these cases and that are being incorporated into hospital and health contexts. One of the objectives of these changes is to obtain greater psychological support for parents who need help and emotional support.

Characteristics of perinatal grief

Losing a loved one who is about to be born or a newborn is a terrible shock to the parents. In addition to the damage caused by the loss, they are experienced painful new situations, such as having to put aside all created plans or feel obligated to make new decisions such as returning to work or planning a new pregnancy. All this can be distressing, confusing and enormously painful.

This can generate great anxiety and even feelings of guilt, especially when the causes of the loss are not clear. Often, parents may feel that they have done something wrong or that they have missed something important. This situation can generate post-traumatic stress, which is usually reflected in the following pregnancies: approximately 75% of these parents have another baby again and experience great anxiety and fear during the next pregnancy.

Lack of emotional support or understanding can also be very harmful for these parents who may feel that their pain is not common, when this is not real. This happens especially in women who sometimes experience pain at different speed and intensity than others. Managing the impact that the loss has caused can be a challenge for the couple. According to one study, despite this pressure, those couples who had a satisfactory previous relationship manage to stay together, while couples who did not have it are likely to separate further during this stage.

Phases of perinatal grief

As in all grieving processes, there is an adaptation period that is aimed at overcoming and accepting the loss and going through several phases common to all duels:

  • Shock and denial: During this first phase, parents do not come to believe what has happened and tend to deny what is happening due to the sensation of shock.
  • Feeling of anger: At this time the feeling of anger is common. The questions arise and you do not get to understand what has happened, which causes anger and anger. Self-blame or blame others is also common, and you may even feel angry at seeing other parents who have not had problems having children. This is something normal and necessary in the grieving process.
  • Negotiation phase: After the initial anger begins a period in which people try to "fix" the situation and look for possible causes that could have changed what has happened or what will happen in the future. "If I had done things like this, this might not have happened", "now I will change my way of eating and this will not happen again ...". It is a way of trying to find answers and make everything "perfect."
  • Sadness or depression phase: At this stage, the awareness of the event is broader and the person realizes that nothing can change what has happened. It is when the deepest feelings emerge and people can become isolated in pain. Depression may be more or less severe depending on the person, their experiences and strengths. In cases of very severe it is advisable to seek professional support to overcome this stage with greater success.
  • Acceptance: It is the moment in which the lived situation is assumed and the magnitude of the pain begins to diminish temporarily, although not to be forgotten. People start to get ahead and return to the routine and this can sometimes make them feel guilty and feel depressed again. This is something totally normal, since the progress of acceptance must follow the appropriate rhythm for each person. Although this loss will never be forgotten, people manage to move on and feel future illusions again.

Treatment and help

Although there is increasing awareness on the subject, very commonly parents who suffer a perinatal loss do not feel socially understood. This generates great stress and causes the person to isolate himself in his pain. Although some relatives, acquaintances or even professionals try to help, sometimes they use phrases of "support" that are not appropriate, such as affirming that "another will come" or "at least you know that you can get pregnant." Although this may carry good intentions, it is not appropriate to help a person in this state as it increases their sense of misunderstanding. The best thing in these cases is to say "I'm sorry" and let the parents express their pain without trying to relativize it or do as if nothing happened.

When this pain seriously interferes with the ability to continue with daily life, it is advisable to seek professional psychological help specialized in grief and acute stress due to loss. In these you are looking for express feelings, learn to manage anxiety, as well as to manage cognitive strategies for recovery. It is common to create a physical and psychological space to remember the lost baby and honor his memory. Talking about it with the couple and knowing that we are not alone is very important to accept the loss and achieve future psychological and emotional acceptance and stability.

Links of interest

The 5 stages of the duel. Marta Guerri. // blog / the 5-stages-of the duel /

Perinatal grief: a poignant form of bereavement. Margaret McSpedden. //

The 5 Stages Of Grief After A Miscarriage. //

Life after a pregnancy or infant loss: Finding a way to heal // /