TRYING TO UNDERSTAND
Stillbirth is defined as the intrauterine death and subsequent delivery of a developing infant
that occurs beyond 20 completed weeks of gestation.
Stillbirth occurs in about one in 200 pregnancies. The majority of stillbirths happen before
labor, whereas a small percentage occurs during labor and delivery.
Why do stillbirths happen?
If you have had a stillbirth or are supporting someone through this difficult experience, you
probably are in desperate need of knowing why this happened. An autopsy is normally the best way to diagnose a
cause for stillbirth, but this is not always a standard procedure. Inquire about your hospitals procedures when
handling stillborn babies and the cause of death. If normal procedure is not to have an autopsy, seek to find out
how you can request one, if that’s what you and your family desire.
The Most Common Known Causes of Stillbirths Include:
Placental Problems: Women with placental abruption, or a pregnancy-related form of
high blood pressure called preeclampsia or pregnancy induced hypertension, have twice the risk of
abruption or stillbirth as unaffected women. Sometimes insufficient oxygen and nutrients can also
contribute to a baby’s death.
Birth Defects: Chromosomal abnormalities account for 5-10% of all stillborn babies.
Sometimes a baby has structural malformations that are not caused by chromosomal abnormalities, but can
result from genetic, environmental or unknown causes.
Growth Restriction: Babies who are small or not growing at an appropriate rate are at
risk of death from asphyxia (lack of oxygen) both before and during birth, and from unknown causes.
Infections: Bacterial infections between 24 and 27 weeks gestation can cause fetal
deaths. These infections usually go unnoticed by the mother and may not be diagnosed until they cause
Other infrequent causes of stillbirth include: umbilical cord accidents, trauma,
maternal diabetes, high blood pressure and postdate pregnancy (a pregnancy that lasts longer than 42
Unfortunately, despite efforts to find out why, the cause can not be determined in about
one-third of stillbirths.
What are some factors that increase a mother’s risk of stillbirth?
How is a stillbirth diagnosis made?
Most women usually notice that their baby isn’t very active and become worried about what this
could mean. An ultrasound can confirm that the baby has died and in some cases determine the reason why.
Can stillbirth be prevented?
Improvements in medicine have decreased the number of stillbirths. In fact, according to the
March of Dimes, “over the past twenty years, stillbirths have declined by nearly 50 percent.” Today women with
high-risk pregnancies are carefully monitored through routine ultrasounds and or fetal heart rate monitoring. If
potential problems are identified, early delivery may be necessary. The following are steps you can take to help
A daily “kick count.” Starting at 26 weeks of pregnancy, take time each day to record your baby’s
movements. If you familiarize yourself with what is normal for your baby, than you are more likely to
notice when something does not feel right. If you notice a sudden decrease in movements, contact your
health care provider. An ultrasound can normally confirm if there are any potential problems.
Avoid drugs, alcohol and smoking as these can increase your risk of stillbirth and other pregnancy
Contact your health care provider immediately if you have any vaginal bleeding.
If you have had a previous stillbirth, future pregnancies should be monitored closely so that all
necessary steps can be taken to prevent another loss.