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.
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:
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, the 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.
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:
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:
Call the provider if you have any of the following problems:
Reddy UM, Silver RM. Stillbirth. In: Resnik R, Lockwood CJ, Moore TR, Greene MF, Copel JA, Silver RM, eds. Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 45.
Reddy UM, Silver RM. Stillbirth. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 34.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 10/5/2020
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. 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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