Stillbirth; Fetal demise; Pregnancy - stillborn
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.
More About Stillbirth
About 1 in 160 pregnancies end in stillbirth. Stillbirth is less common than in the past because of better pregnancy care. Up to one 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:
What Will Happen?
The health care provider will use an 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, provider 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.
Coping With the Grief
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 provider or a counselor about your feelings. Other things that can help you through the mourning are to:
The Risk for Stillbirth
Most women who have had a stillbirth are very likely to have a healthy pregnancy in the future. Placenta and cord problems or chromosome defects are unlikely to occur again. Some things you can do to help prevent another stillbirth are:
When to Call the Doctor
Call the provider if you have any of the following problems:
Reddy UM, Spong CY. Stillbirth. In: Creasy RK, Resnik R, Iams JD, Lockwood CJ, Moore TR, Greene MF, eds. Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 45.
Simpson JL, Jauniaux ERM. Early pregnancy loss and stillbirth. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 27.
Review Date: 9/25/2018
Reviewed By: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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