Stillbirth: Symptoms and Risks


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 any clue of what went wrong, sometimes, stillbirth can be prevented by becoming aware of stillbirth symptoms and risks.


Stillbirth is the death of the unborn baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It can happen either during pregnancy or during labor and delivery. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 1 out of 160 pregnancies end in stillbirth. Unbelievably, the causes of about one quarter of the stillbirth cases remain unknown.

While it may not be possible to predict stillbirth in advance, it can be helpful to understand stillbirth symptoms and risk factors in order to be safe from a probable stillbirth.

What are the symptoms of stillbirth?

Stillbirths may not always be associated with a warning sign. Yet, identifying one when it happens along with timely medical help can save the baby. Becoming aware of the following changes during pregnancy is important:

No baby activity or changes in baby movements in the womb

Baby movements inside the womb can be felt beginning from 17 weeks pregnancy.  By the start of the third trimester, a regular pattern in baby movements can be traced. That is, a pregnant mother will be able to get a picture of when in the day the baby is active and the activities the baby responds to (with kicks or movements), like after meals, lying down, going out in the sun, etc.

Keeping a track of the baby’s movements is essential in order to pick up any abnormal changes or stillness in the baby. One of the best methods to assess the well-being of your baby is kick counting.

Kick counting

Beginning 28 weeks, your OB might ask you to start kick counts. Kick counting is important to make sure your baby is doing alright inside. Follow the steps below to do kick counts:

Ø  If you are sure of a time of the day when the baby will be active, stick to it every day. If you haven’t found one, choose a time when you feel your baby is active.

Ø  Most often, babies in the womb are active after food or just before bedtime.

Ø  Before starting to count, lie to your side and remain quiet. Do not make movements.

Ø  When you feel your baby’s movements, start counting. Count kicks, movements, rolls or whatever gymnastics your little thing is up to. Make sure you do not count in hiccups though.

Ø  The idea of this exercise is to count up to 10 kicks. And it shouldn’t take more than 2 hours to feel 10 kicks from your baby. Even if you get 10 counts in just 2 minutes or 5 minutes, you are good.

If it has been 2 hours but you didn’t feel 10 movements, it is an alert. You might feel unsure about the changes in baby movements which you notice. It is better that you do not wait for too long to contact your doctor. If you arrive at the hospital, your doctor will check your baby’s heart rate and if required do an ultrasound or a stress test to make sure your baby is doing fine.

Premature water breaking

Water breaking in the last two weeks of pregnancy is usually normal and a sign of impending labor. However, if you experience water breaking prematurely, it can be one of the stillbirth symptoms and risks. You might have contracted an infection which led to the water breaking or after the rupture, you might carry a risk of contracting an infection. In either case, it is an emergency condition.

Water breaking can be a sudden gush of water from in-between your legs or a slow trickle of fluid in intermittent periods. Most often, the pregnant mother might assume it to be urine leakage or vaginal discharge. Amniotic fluid is usually colorless and odorless which marks its difference from urine. Also, unlike urine flow, the release of the amniotic fluid cannot be controlled by your kegel muscles.

If you suspect water breaking prematurely, way before your due date, there is no reason to wait. The longer you wait, the higher are the chances for stillbirth.

Abnormal vaginal discharge

Any vaginal discharge which doesn’t seem normal to you should be reported to the doctor. Blood or greenish tinges in the discharge are certainly not normal and needs to be examined at the earliest.

Other stillbirth symptoms include sudden increase of blood pressure or severe abdominal pain.

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


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