Parents supporting parents: Development and evaluation of a peer parent program for perinatal loss

The loss of a pregnancy or newborn ( i. e., perinatal loss ) can be one of the most traumatic experiences parents can face. The most common type of loss is miscarriage ( i. e., loss occurring at < 20 weeks gestation ), which occurs in approximately 10% to 15% of clinically recognized pregnancies; stillbirth (i.e., loss at ≥ 20 weeks gestation) accounts for approximately 26,000 deaths; and, neonatal death (i.e., baby lives < 28 days) occurs in 4.04 per 1,000 live births.

Perinatal loss has been described as an “invisible loss,” meaning it is one that is not often shared or recognized by others. When people experience distressing events they often reach out to trusted others for comfort and support. However, perinatally bereaved parents have reported their grief is often not recognized by family and/or friends. Such an experience can leave parents feeling isolated and as if their distress is unwarranted. Additionally, these parents face a unique type of grief, one which involves the loss of expectations about the future. For these reasons, perinatally bereaved parents are well suited to being connected to a peer support program (PSP). PSPs provide a means of having lay peers with firsthand knowledge provide support to improve the care and outcomes for recently bereaved parents.

To provide an effective model from which other hospitals and support programs can develop perinatal loss PSPs, we conducted a program review of our PSP located in a mid-sized hospital in the Midwest. At the time of the study a total of 15 women and one man were trained as peer parents; 17 women were assigned to peer parents. The goal of our PSP was to offer recently bereaved parents another option for receiving support within our comprehensive perinatal bereavement program. The PSP did this by (a) recruiting and training qualified parents who could serve as peer parents; (b) formalizing peer connections by assigning a newly bereaved parent to a trained peer parent; and (c) having PSP coordinators maintain a supervisory role to peer parents by providing support, education, and evaluation throughout their PSP relationship.

Program review data suggested four overlapping themes emerged for the peer parents and parents receiving support. Both groups discussed the logistics of making contact with their assigned parent, their respective positive aspects and difficulties with engaging with the PSP, and suggestions for improving the PSP.

fig1-rachelmdiamondAs a whole, the parents both providing and receiving support found the PSP to be helpful toward their healing. Such programs offer a much needed one-on-one approach to care that provides grieving parents with a normalizing experience.

Rachel M. Diamond 1 and Rosmarie E. Roose 2
1Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies,
Marriage & Family Therapy Program, at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT, USA
2OB Nurse Navigator in the Maternal Fetal Medicine Center and Clinical Coordinator for
Still Missed Perinatal Bereavement Program at Adventist Midwest
Region/Adventist Hinsdale Hospital in Hinsdale, IL, USA



Development and Evaluation of a Peer Support Program for Parents Facing Perinatal Loss.
Diamond RM, Roose RE
Nurs Womens Health. 2016 Apr-May


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