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.
You have the right to deny an autopsy, if this is your wish.
An autopsy is legally required when:
* A baby has died within 24 hours of a surgical operation
* A doctor cannot certify the cause of death
* A baby has lived (defined as "drawing breath") and died suddenly
What physical symptoms will the mother have after delivering a stillborn baby?
If you have heavy bleeding, fever, chills or pain, contact your health care provider right away. These may be signs of an infection.
After the delivery of the placenta, the milk-producing hormones will be activated. Please talk to your health care provider about your options to stop lactation.
Can a stillbirth be prevented?
Usually a stillbirth cannot be prevented and often occurs because the baby's development was not normal.
Sometimes, treatment of a mother's illness can improve the chances for a successful pregnancy.
Is a funeral necessary?
After the death of your baby, one of the first decisions you will be faced with is whether or not you need to arrange a funeral.
The type of arrangements you make may play an important role in the grieving process. It is a decision that only you and your partner can reach together. You may find that you need time to make your decisions and arrangements. It is quite common for families to take up to a week (and sometimes longer) to make arrangements. This is okay.
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