What is stillbirth?

Stillbirth is the delivery, after the 20th week of pregnancy, of a baby who has died. Loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy is called a miscarriage.

Most women who have a stillbirth will be able to have a healthy baby in their next pregnancy. If the stillbirth was caused by certain chromosomal problems or an umbilical cord problem, the chances of it happening again are small. If the cause was a chronic illness in the mom or a genetic disorder in the parents, the risk is higher. On average, the chance of a successful future pregnancy is more than 90%.

How common is stillbirth?

Stillbirth can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of stillbirth?

The symptom of stillbirth is the baby born dead after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes stillbirth?

The causes of a stillbirth that are understood include:

  • Birth defects, with or without a genetical abnormality.
  • Problems with the umbilical cord. With a prolapsed umbilical cord, the cord comes out of the vagina before the baby, blocking the oxygen supply before the baby can breathe on its own. Or the cord can knot or wrap tightly around a limb or the baby’s neck prior to delivery.
  • Problems with the placenta, which nourishes the baby. In a placental abruption, the placenta separates too soon from the uterine wall.
  • Conditions in the mother like diabetes or high blood pressure, particularly pregnancy-induced high blood pressure or preeclampsia.
  • Intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR, which puts the fetus at risk of dying from lack of nutrition
  • Severe lack of nutrition.
  • Infections during pregnancy.
  • Exposure to environmental agents such as pesticides or carbon monoxide.
  • A personal or family history of blood clotting conditions like thrombosis, thrombophlebitis, or pulmonary embolism.

Around a half of all stillbirths are linked to placental complications. This means that for some reason the placenta (the organ that links the baby’s blood supply to the mother’s and nourishes the baby in the womb) isn’t functioning properly.

About 10% of stillborn babies have some kind of birth defect that contributed to their death. A small percentage of stillbirths are caused by problems with the mother’s health, for example pre-eclampsia, or other problems, including cord accidents and infections.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for stillbirth?

There are many risk factors for stillbirth, such as:

  • A previous stillbirth
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Being under 15 or over 35

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.


How is stillbirth diagnosed?

If it’s suspected that your baby may have died during your pregnancy, a handheld Doppler device or an ultrasound scan can be used to check your baby’s heartbeat.

If your baby has died and there’s no immediate risk to your health, you’ll usually be given time to think about what you want to do next.

You may be able to choose whether you would like to wait for labor to begin naturally, or if you want it to be started with medication (induced).

If your health is at risk, the baby may need to be delivered as soon as possible. It’s rare for a stillborn baby to be delivered by caesarean section.

At this stage, it’s common for parents to ask why their baby died. Those caring for you may give you some basic information about tests to try to find out why your baby died.

How is stillbirth treated?

After a stillbirth, many parents want to see and hold their baby. You may also wish to give your baby a name and create memories by taking photographs or a lock of hair. It’s completely up to you what you want to do. Decisions about what to do are very personal and there’s no right or wrong way to respond.

Finding out why a stillbirth has happened can be helpful with the grieving process and provide information if you want to get pregnant in the future, so you’ll be offered tests to try to find out why your baby died.

A senior doctor will discuss the test results and post-mortem (if you decided to have one) during a follow-up appointment several weeks after the birth. You may also want to discuss any possible effects on future pregnancies.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage stillbirth?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with stillbirth:

  • Stopping smoking.
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs during pregnancy – these can seriously affect your baby’s development and increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
  • Attending all your antenatal appointments so that midwives can monitor the growth and wellbeing of your baby.

Stillbirth and late miscarriage can be devastating for the baby’s parents, and they can also affect wider family members, including children and friends. You may find it helpful to discuss your feelings with your GP, community midwife or health visitor, or with other parents who’ve lost a baby.

There are many support groups to help you. Some of these groups are run by parents who’ve experienced stillbirth, or by healthcare professionals, such as baby loss support workers or specialist midwives.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: April 14, 2017 | Last Modified: April 14, 2017

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