A stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb during the last 20 weeks of pregnancy. A miscarriage is a fetal loss in the first half of pregnancy.
About 1in 160 pregnancies end in stillbirth. Stillbirth is less common than in the past because of better pregnancy care. Up to half of the time, the reason for the stillbirth is never known.
Some factors that can cause stillbirth are:
Women at higher risk for stillbirth:
The doctor will use ultrasound to confirm that the baby’s heart has stopped beating. If the woman’s health is at risk, she will need to deliver the baby right away. Otherwise, she can choose to have medicine to start labor or wait for labor to begin on its own.
After the delivery, doctors will look at the placenta, fetus, and umbilical cord for signs of problems. The parents will be asked for permission to do more detailed tests. These may include internal exams (autopsy), x-rays, and genetic tests.
It is natural for parents to feel uneasy about these tests when they are dealing with the loss of a baby. But learning the cause of the stillbirth can help a woman have a healthy baby in the future. It may also help some parents cope with their loss to know as much as they can.
Stillbirth is a tragic event for a family. The grief of a pregnancy loss can raise the risk of postpartum depression. People cope with grief in different ways. It may be helpful to talk to your doctor or a counselor about your feelings. Other things that can help you through the mourning are:
Women who have had a stillbirth have a high chance of a healthy pregnancy in the future. Placenta and cord problems or chromosome defects are unlikely to occur again. Most women have 97% chance of having a healthy pregnancy following a stillbirth.
Some things you can do to help prevent another stillbirth are:
Call the doctor if you have any of the following problems:
Simpson JL, Jauniaux ER. Pregnancy loss. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 26.
Updated by: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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