Understanding stillbirth stigma: A scoping literature review

Danielle Pollock, Tahereh Ziaian, Elissa Pearson, Megan Cooper, Jane Warland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The World Health Organization, and the 2011 and 2016 Lancet Stillbirth series as well as medical and scientific literature, have all called for stillbirth stigma to be reduced. However, few studies have explored or attempted to conceptualise the meaning of stigma in the context of stillbirth. Aim: To explore the current knowledge surrounding stillbirth stigma, specifically the extent, type and experiences of bereaved parents. Methods: A five-stage scoping review framework was utilised. A search of relevant databases (MedLine, EMBASE, PsychInfo, PsychArticles, and Ovid Emcare) was undertaken with several key words related to ‘stillbirth’ and ‘stigma.’ The reference lists of included studies were also searched. Findings: A total of 23 resources met the inclusion criteria for this review. A thematic analysis regarding how stigma was conceptualised and/or experienced within results and/or discussion was employed on these studies. Five over-arching themes, with several sub-themes, were discovered: Type of stigma, identity, silence, bereaved mothers’ experiences of stigma in low-income countries and transformation. Discussion: Stillbirth stigma remains an under-researched topic. Few articles conceptualised the experiences of the bereaved parent within a stigma framework. However, examples of bereaved parents enduring stigma were found within the literature. Common stigmatising experiences included, bereaved parents’ identities being challenged; and feelings of shame, guilt, and blame after their stillbirth. Stigmatising experiences could be different based on the bereaved parent's cultural background. Conclusion: Further research which attempts to conceptualise stillbirth stigma and explores those experiences from a bereaved parent perspective is needed to help inform stigma reduction strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-218
Number of pages12
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Bereavement
  • Pregnancy loss
  • Scoping review
  • Social psychology
  • Stigma
  • Stillbirth


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