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Stillbirth

A stillbirth is when a fetus that was expected to survive dies during birth or during the last half of pregnancy.

See also: Miscarriage

Information

Stillbirth is becoming less common as care for pregnancy improves. If you have a stillbirth, your health care provider may ask to carefully examine and test the fetus to determine the cause of stillbirth. This may help plan medical care for any future pregnancies. A full autopsy will be offered. You may decline this option if you wish.

Stillbirth can be caused by:

  • Birth defects
  • Chromosome abnormalities
  • Infection, in the mother or the fetus
  • Injuries
  • Medical conditions of the mother, such as diabetes, epilepsy, and high blood pressure
  • Placenta problems (placental detachment or poor placental function)
  • Sudden severe blood loss (hemorrhage) in the mother or fetus
  • Stopping of the heartbeat (cardiac arrest) in the mother or fetus
  • Umbilical cord problems

In about 15 - 35% of stillbirths, no explanation can be found.

Stillbirth is traumatic for the mother and her family. It can cause grief and lead to an increased risk for postpartum depression .

References

Cunningham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al. Diseases and injuries of the fetus and newborn. In: Cunningham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al, eds. Williams Obstetrics. 23rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2010: chap 29.

Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Churchill Livingstone; 2007.

Dudley DJ, Goldenberg R, Conway D, Siler RM, Saade GR, Varner MW, et al. A new system for determining the causes of stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2010;116:254-260.

Updated: 5/31/2011

Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, University of Washington School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, WA; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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