What is a Stillbirth: Complete Explanation
Stillbirth is the death of a baby after the 20th week of pregnancy, but before delivery. The baby may have died in the uterus weeks or hours before labor, or during labor.
How common are stillbirths?
About one in every 150 births, or 1% of all births, is a stillbirth.
What causes stillbirths?
The three major causes of stillbirths are:
Problems with the placenta and/or umbilical cord. Because the fetus gets its blood, oxygen and nutrients through the placenta and umbilical cord, problems in either will interfere with fetal development.
Maternal medical conditions and lifestyle choices. Certain illnesses in the mother, or their treatments, sometimes cause stillbirths. Some of these conditions include chronic hypertension (high blood pressure), preeclampsia, diabetes, lupus, heart or thyroid disease and certain viral or bacterial infections. Older mothers are usually at increased risk for these conditions, as well as for stillbirths. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and using certain recreational drugs during pregnancy are also associated with higher rates of stillbirth.
Birth defects. In about one-fourth of stillborn babies, one or more birth defects are responsible for the death. Many are found only after a thorough examination of the baby and an autopsy.
Unfortunately, more than half of stillbirths are unexplained, which only adds to parents' grief.
What happens after a stillborn baby is delivered?
You will be able to hold your baby, and your health care providers will allow you as much time as you need to spend with your child. You may feel uncomfortable with this idea, but it will be a cherished moment at a later time.
Keep and ask for any mementos and keepsakes of your child such as the I.D. bracelet, blanket, or a lock of your child's hair, and take as many pictures as possible. As with holding your baby, this may also be uncomfortable but it may be a cherished possession at a later time and may help you during your grieving process. Most hospitals will issue the family a birth certificate, but make sure you ask so you are sure to get one, and request that it include the baby's hand and footprints.
Test and examinations
The doctor will carefully examine the baby and placenta to check for abnormalities, and parents may be asked to consent to an autopsy and other studies. In most cases, a blood sample will be taken from the baby and tested for chromosomal abnormalities.
The doctor will also review medical records and the circumstances surrounding the stillbirth.
How can I find out what caused my baby to be stillborn?
Pending your consent, an internal examination (autopsy) can be performed to determine the cause of your baby's death. An autopsy is a surgical procedure performed by a skilled pathologist. Incisions are made to avoid any disfigurement. The incisions are surgically repaired in the usual way. A doctor can explain the procedure in more detail. You have the right to limit the autopsy to eliminate any incisions on your baby that are not comfortable for you (for instance, you can give instructions that no incisions are to be made on the baby's head). Be sure to write these requests on the autopsy permission form.
Some hospitals do not perform their own autopsies, so your baby may have to be transported to another hospital. Be sure you feel comfortable about where your child is being taken.