Common Causes of Stillbirth

The American National Stillbirth Society defines stillbirths as "the intrauterine death and subsequent delivery of a developing infant that occurs beyond 20 completed weeks of gestation." The organization reports that more than 28,000 babies are delivered dead in the United States each year. The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (Sands) reports that 17 babies are stillborn (after the 24th week of gestation according to the organization) or die shortly after death every day in the UK. Most stillbirths happen before labor but some do happen during labor and delivery.

Sands reports that often the reason for the death of the baby is unknown. At least half of stillbirths are unexplained.

Risk Factors

Any women can have a stillbirth baby. But there are some factors that increase the likelihood of this happening. Older (over 35) and younger (teens) mothers have a higher risk of having stillborn babies. Multiples run the risk of one or more of the babies dying in utero or shortly after birth. Specific medical conditions like hypertension, thrombophilia (problems with blood clots) or diabetes can cause still birth as can a history of obstetric complications. Women who smoke, live in areas of social deprivation and are malnourished, or who are obese have an increased risk of stillbirths. Alcohol and drug use can increase stillbirths.

Possible Causes

Bacterial infections, especially between 24 and 27 weeks gestation, can go unnoticed by the mother but can cause serious complications, including fetal death. Placental problems can cause stillbirths since not enough nutrients and oxygen can get to the baby. Unusually small babies may not be able to get enough oxygen and could die in utero or shortly after birth.

Other causes include high blood pressure, umbilical cord strangulation, trauma, or a pregnancy that goes significantly past term. Five to 10 percent of stillborn babies die because they have chromosomal abnormalities or structural malformations.

What You Can Do

The idea of your baby dying is very scary to any mother-to-be. It can happen no matter how careful you were during your pregnancy and how healthy you are. But you're not completely powerless to prevent stillbirth.

Reduce your chance of being exposed to infections like salmonella, toxoplasmosis and listeria. Watch the foods you eat and don't clean a cat litter box unless you absolutely have to and then only with a nose and mouth mask and gloves.

Keep track of your baby's movements beginning around the 26th week of pregnancy. If you notice a decrease, contact your healthcare provider right away or immediately go to emergency. An ultrasound will be done to see if there are any problems.

Make sure you get regular prenatal care. Don't smoke, drink or use recreational drugs.


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