Healthcare professionals’ perceptions and experiences of using a cold cot following the loss of a baby: A qualitative study in maternity and neonatal units in the UK

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Background: Best practice in perinatal bereavement care suggests offering parents the opportunity to spend time with their baby. Cold cots facilitate this purpose by reducing the deterioration of the body and evidence indicates their wide availability in maternity and neonatal units in the UK. This study aimed to examine healthcare professionals’ perceptions and experiences of using a cold cot following the loss of a baby.
Methods: A qualitative cross-sectional study was designed. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 33 maternity and neonatal unit healthcare professionals who worked across three UK hospital settings. Data were analysed using inductive reflexive thematic analysis.
Results: Findings revealed that staff had predominantly positive views about, and experiences of, using a cold cot. The technology was highly valued because it facilitated parents to spend time with their baby and participants reported that it was generally easy to use and smoothly embedded into the clinical environment. Cold cots were deemed useful when mothers were medically unwell and needed time to recover, when parents struggled to say goodbye to their baby, wished to take the baby home, or wanted their baby to stay in the unit instead of going straight to the mortuary. The use of technology was further perceived to be relevant in scenarios of unexpected loss, post-mortem examination and with babies of late gestations or neonates. Despite staff expressing comfort with the delay of visual and olfactory body changes, the coldness of the baby’s body that was accelerated with the use of a cold cot was a major concern as it connoted and possibly exacerbated the reality of death.
Conclusions: Cold cots allow the materialisation of modern bereavement care practices that recognise the importance of continuing bonds with the deceased that is made possible through the creation of memories within an extremely restricted timeframe. Simultaneously, the body coldness concentrates the ambivalence toward an inherently paradoxical death, that of a baby. Training in perinatal bereavement care, including the use of cold cots, would help staff support bereaved parents whilst acknowledging dilemmas and managing contradictions encompassed in death at the time or near the time of birth.
Original languageEnglish
Article number175
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2020

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