What is a stillbirth?

Stillbirth is when a baby is born after the 24th week of pregnancy without showing any signs of life.

If the death occurs in the womb, it is called intra-uterine and if it happens during labour it is know as intra-partum. If the baby dies in the womb, labour is induced. A baby dying before the 24th week is known as a miscarriage.

What causes it?

The exact causes of a stillbirth often remain unclear, although one sixth are thought to result from an abnormality present at birth or other complications during pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia. Other possible causes and risk factors include:

  • Smoking during pregnancy increases the chances of stillbirth

    Smoking while pregnant

  • Infection during pregnancy, such as listeriosis
  • The mother being under the age of 20 or over the age of 40
  • The mother being obese
  • Poor growth in the womb
  • Birth trauma – if the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, for example
  • Pre-existing health problems in the mother such as high blood pressure or diabetes
  • A problem with the placenta (when it separates from the womb too early)
  • A physical defect with the baby (possibly genetic)

How does it happen?

Many stillbirths are preceded by growth restrictions or reduced movement of the baby over a period of 24 hours. Some women suddenly go into labour.

When a stillbirth has been established, labour is usually induced. A Caserean section is not recommended due to the high risk of bleeding.

[adsense]What happens next?

Most women opt to hold their baby and some have a photo taken to help them come to terms with the death. Parents can then choose whether or not to have a post-mortem conducted, the results of which may or may not explain why the baby died. If it does, however, it may go a long way in helping to prevent the same thing from happening during a future pregnancy.

For this purpose, the mother may also choose to have her placenta examined or have a blood test to determine whether or not she has an underlying condition, such as the autoimmune disease lupus, which could have caused the stillbirth.

Grieving for a stillborn child is very difficult and parents often choose to have therapy to help them deal with the death.

Click here to read about what happens during an ectopic pregnancy, morning sickness and stretch marks.

Images: jhirsch and jkohen on Flikr