What is a stillbirth?

Stillbirth is the death of a fetus after the 20th week of pregnancy, but before the baby can be delivered. The baby may have died in the uterus weeks or hours before labor. Rarely, the fetus may die during labor.

How common are stillbirths?

Stillbirth occurs in about 1 of 160 births.

What causes stillbirths?

The 3 major causes of stillbirths are:

  • Problems with the placenta and/or umbilical cord. The placenta is an organ that lines the uterus of pregnant women. The fetus gets its blood, oxygen, and nutrients through the placenta and umbilical cord, so problems in either will affect the growth of the fetus.
  • Mother's medical conditions. Certain illnesses in the mother (or treatments for the illness) sometimes cause stillbirths. Some of these conditions include:
    • High blood pressure.
    • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure and swelling, often late in the pregnancy).
    • Diabetes.
    • Lupus.
    • Heart or thyroid disease.
    • Certain viral or bacterial infections.
    • Older mothers are usually at increased risk for these conditions, as well as for stillbirths.
  • Mother's lifestyle choices. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and using certain recreational drugs during pregnancy are linked with higher rates of stillbirth.
  • Birth defects. In about 1/4 of stillborn babies, 1 or more birth defects are responsible for the death. Many are found only after a thorough examination of the baby and an autopsy (internal examination).

Many stillbirths are unexplained, which only adds to parents' grief.

What physical symptoms does the mother have after delivering a stillborn baby?

If you have heavy bleeding, fever, chills or pain, contact your healthcare provider right away. These may be signs of an infection.

After the delivery of the placenta, the milk-producing hormones will be activated (lactation). Please talk to your healthcare provider about your options for stopping lactation.

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