Stillbirth: Causes, Warning Signs, Risk Factors and Prevention


Losing a baby in the womb or during delivery can be extremely saddening for the parents and family. While most often stillbirth happens unexpectedly without leaving a clue of what went wrong, sometimes, stillbirth can be prevented by becoming aware of the risk factors and warning signs.


What is a stillbirth?

The loss of the fetus after 20 weeks of pregnancy is called a stillbirth. Stillbirth can happen while the fetus is still inside the womb. In rare cases, babies die during labor or birth process. Fetal loss before 20 weeks of pregnancy falls under miscarriage.

Depending upon the stage of pregnancy when stillbirth occurs, it is categorized as below:

·         Early stillbirth: Death of the unborn baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy and before the completion of the second trimester, that is, 27 weeks.

·          Late stillbirth: Death of the unborn baby after the third trimester begins and before the baby is full term, that is, between 28 and 36 weeks.

·         Term stillbirth: Death of the baby after he or she has reached full term, that is, beyond 37 weeks of pregnancy.

What are the causes of stillbirth?

The exact cause of stillbirth remains a mystery in about 1 in 4 stillbirths. Of the known causes, the following are the common reasons that lead to stillbirth:

·         Premature labor

·         Chromosomal abnormalities      

·         Placental complications like placental abruption or placenta previa

·         Intrauterine infection

·         Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)

·         Pregnancy complications in the mother, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes

What are the risk factors of stillbirth?

The following increases the chances of stillbirths though do not necessarily contribute to stillbirth:

·         Smoking, consuming alcohol or illegal drugs during pregnancy

·         Mother’s age above 35 years

·         Health complications in the mother before pregnancy, such as infections, obesity and diabetes

·         Pregnancy-related complications; most often, preeclampsia or any risk for premature labor

·         Sleeping on the back during pregnancy

·         Emotional and psychological stress in the mother during or before pregnancy

·         Previous miscarriage or stillbirth

·         Physical injury to the abdominal region during pregnancy

·         Low socioeconomic status

·         Multiple pregnancies

·         Racial factors

What are the warning signs of stillbirth?

·         No baby movements in the womb

·         Changes in baby’s movements like reduced number of kicks

·         Premature water breaking

·         Abnormal vaginal discharge

·         Sudden raise of blood pressure

·         Severe abdominal pain

How is stillbirth diagnosed?

When the mother stops feeling baby movements, it must be immediately reported to the doctor. At the hospital, an ultrasound can say if the baby is dead by measuring the signs of life – fetal heartbeat and breathing.

How can stillbirth be prevented?

There is no one way to prevent stillbirth because in most cases, it is an unexpected event. However, in addition to avoiding the risk factors listed above, the following care can stop a stillbirth before it is too late:

·         Regular prenatal visits

·         Immediate reporting of any abnormal changes during pregnancy to the doctor

·         Practicing prenatal yoga or other relaxation techniques during pregnancy


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