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What is a Stillbirth: Complete Explanation

Armen Hareyan's picture

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

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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.

No matter what your choice is, you have the right to change your mind be sure you ask whoever is carrying out your arrangements just how long you have to make any changes.

How to communicate with your other children?

You may find your surviving children are a comfort, a worry or just too hard to deal with. These are normal reactions. Take time to grieve and say goodbye to the child you lost. You will eventually feel more normal feelings for your living children, and the bond you have with them may become even stronger because of this experience.

No matter how much you may want to shelter your children from pain, they can sense the emotion around them. Honesty is the best way to help your children cope with this painful experience. Children have a different understanding of death at different developmental stages. Help them to understand as much as they are able, but don't forget that they usually interpret what they're told very literally.

Can I get pregnant after I've delivered a stillborn baby?

Yes. Most women who deliver stillborn babies have subsequent normal pregnancies and births. If the stillbirth was caused by a malformation or umbilical cord problem, the chances of recurrence in a subsequent pregnancy are minimal. If the cause was a chronic maternal illness or a genetic disorder, the risk is somewhat higher. On average, the chance that a woman's next pregnancy will result in stillbirth is about 3%, which means the majority of post-stillbirth pregnancies result in healthy births.

Taking time to heal both physically and emotionally after delivering a stillborn baby is important. Regardless of the stage of pregnancy during which your loss occurred, you are still a mother or father and the life you nurtured was real. Above all, don't blame yourself. Give yourself time to grieve and accept your loss. Counseling is available to help you cope. Pregnancy loss support groups may also be a valuable resource to you and your partner. Ask your health care provider for more information about counseling and support groups.

Discuss the timing of your next pregnancy with your health care provider to ensure that you are physically ready to begin a new pregnancy. Some health care providers recommend waiting a certain amount of time (from 6 months to 1 year) before trying to conceive again. Some studies have shown that women who wait for at least one year to conceive may have less depression and anxiety during a subsequent pregnancy.

Statistics show that about 60% of couples take up to 6 months to conceive and another 30% take up to 12 months after delivery of a stillborn baby. Don't be surprised if things don't happen quickly.


This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional written health information, please contact the Health Information Center at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771 or visit Cleveland Clinic. This document was last reviewed on: 9/9/2002

The Cleveland Clinic
9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH
This page is updated on May 13, 2013.

Updated: 10/8/2015



I had a beautiful babygirl who was born a stillborn April 8th 2010. She was not expected but we were so happy when we found out. Well at 38 and a half weeks i went in for a regular check up not knowing my doctor would pull out the labtop for an ultrasound showing no heartbeat i delivered her the next morning andheld her very shortly so did the family. The doctor told us to wait 6 months to try again so thats what we decided... At first i thought i would think this one of the one i lost but now im almost 38 weeks and i see this little girl as someone completely different and i just hope the same thing doesnt happen but i trust god will watch over her and let us experience parenthood. I thought i would share our story with you
So far i am 37 weeks and 1 day Preg, I haven't given birth yet, but my pregnancy has gone so so so well and it seems that all these people's expirence have been the same that is worries me. I was tested positive for GBS, which worries me because one of the problems is havign a stillborn, what should i do to relax myself and not to worry about this happening to me ?
My baby girl was stillborn on April 2, 2010. I went in for a scheduled ultrasound to get an estimated fetal weight. The technicians didn't see or hear a heartbeat. I was asked if I was okay to drive myself to the hospital just across the street. When I walked into the hospital I never thought I'd leave without my baby. The perinatologist confirmed that my daughter had no heartbeat. That was the absolute worst day of my life. I was induced and delivered my baby the next day. I'm so glad I got a chance to hold her. Why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong? The autopsy report was inconclusive so I will never know what happened. I just have to trust that God makes no mistakes.
I lost a baby girl at 34 weeks on 24 feb 2010 and am still battling to get over it. In fact Im crying as I type this as i still cant believe it. I was so ready to have her. My placenta broke away for no reason, cutting off her life line so she was born sleeping. I had placental probs with my son so just assumed that the excruitiating pains and blood loss were similar to that I never expected to loose her i thought they'd just deliver her by emergency c -section and she'd be alive but small like my son. Its so painful
I had a stillbirth when I was exactly 24 weeks pregnant. This was back in 2005 and I'm still trying to get over it we are in the same boat. In fact, I've been trying to see what I can do. I was sent to the Navy hospital due to the fact I was bleeding during pregnancy (very unusual and most times not good). The doctor told me the baby had dissolved in me at 24 weeks. I was in pain and crying for two days. The night before Thanksgiving my husband took me back again to the Navy hospital my out in town doctor told us to go to the nearest hospital. It was the nearest. The lady doctor this time had told us that it dissolved in me. I kept wanting to smack these doctors. I went to the bathroom thinking I had to pee. My water broke and I had the baby in the toliet. I was so devasted and proved the doctors I still had a baby inside of me. They didn't let me hold the baby or even see it after they were done cleaning me out. I didn't get to see if it was a boy or girl. I'm trying to find out legally what I can do to get these doctors in trouble. I can't see what they've done to other military wives. It's been 5 years and I'm still suffering. I have 2 girls but still this is unacceptable. Can anyone help me how to get these doctors suspended or anything so no other women has to go through what I did. I wish I knew what happened to my baby. I wanted to have a regular little funeral for him/her. To this day I'm a really protective mother over my 6 and 4 year old cause of what happened to my stillbirth child. Just recently I've let them play outside but I'm so scared I can't lose my girls.
At 21 weeks to the day, I had my baby boy Olivier. I whent to the doctors and was told I had a urinary tract infection. 2 days later I went back to my doctors because I had some vaginal bleeding. I was told to go to the hospital but not to worry, because the heart beat was strong, the baby seemed healthy. At the hospital my body when into labour. The baby was healthy and so was I. Olivier was just too small to survive. I will always wonder why my body decided to go into labour...hopefully the specialist will be able to tell me why-to avaid it happening in the future. Holding Olivier was both the best and worst moment of my life. I keep telling myself "but his heart beat was good"
i lost my little girl Emily Mae on the 21/01/10 she died during labour i was 42weeks pregnant. like any mother thats lost a child a struggle with my emotions daily i feel guilty and blame myself for emilys death as her mother i should of protected her. i have a 2year old who helps so much as she still needs me. Nobody understands the full extent of the grief and emptiness ypu feel unless they have been through the same trauma. mt heat goes out to all of you cause i wouldnt wishe this upon anyone
hello everyone..i had my daughter lilly at 24 weeks she had no nasal bone ...heart problems and 2 parts of her brain missing also fluid on the brain all caused by dandy walker malformation....everytime they scanned me there was something else wrong...my poor little girl...her bedroom was ready she had a whole cupboard of clothes...and the day i had her was ment to be the day i went to buy her buggy.... its been 5 months of hell..i have a 4 year old daughter and a 3 year old son....they both know who lilly is and we go to see her all the time to put flowers on her grave. the doctors i found really nasty , wanting to cut her open and use her like some lab rat...i was in pieces!! no i screamed at them... she is my daughter a baby sister to 2 other children.... never thought it would ever happen 2 me ...the day she was born i held her for 2 hours...didn want 2 ever let her go she was sooo beautiful ...just like her big sister. my partner doesn want anymore ....i try talkin to him about it but he just shouts at me ...i wish he would understand what im going through...i dont want this to be my last memory of having a baby , such pain and heartache
i had lost my baby boy on july 17th 2010 we dont know what happened everything was going well with the pragency we lost him at 21 weeks i had a son he was born at 35 weeks we thank god for both our sons but im glad i still have one we r going to try again soon thta was the sadest day when we lost our son but i can see him everyday as i look at my oldest son but i still sit and cry every now an d then like i said ill see him in heaven one day god rest blade mathews dippelhofer
i had a stillbirth a couple of weeks ago a beutifull little boy i was 24 weeks i tried to tell 4 doctors i was leaking a little fluid none of them checked me said i was paranoid as i had a misscarage at 13 weeks 2 yeares before ! then i went to the hospitlle with bleeding doctor told me baby was dead done internal no sacn !!! waters broke then another doctor done scan my beutifull son wasent dead but the doctor allready bust the water bag my this was at 18 weeks my son lived without water for all that time then on that sunday i felt pain and a stillbirth i have i blame the doctor and im going to sue the hospittle i miss him so much the pain is awfull im 42 so not much chance for me falling again my heart goes out to everybody who has benn through this xx
I really feel for you. I went thro same thing. i had discharge but alot didnt feel right, rang the midwife got told that its normal, wk before that i lost my mucus plug again i called got told it was all normal. At 21 wks i woke up like i had wet the bed it got worse i couldnt get hold off midwife so rang hospital they said to go straight in. Was then i new sommit was wrong. I gushed fluid was told my sac had broke and i had a infection that needed to be treated straight away and either way i was going to loose baby. I lost all fluid and started to bleed, my pulse and tempt was high. They induced my labour it is so heart braking giving birth to a child you have felt kick and shopped for and really want took away over night. Everything was fine at the check ups and scans. We had him beside us the whole night. Sayin bye was so hard after not havin chance to get to no him. I really feel for women that go thro this. xxx
God bless you for sharing your story. I had a cousin to go through the same thing but she had a baby girl. she lost her baby on the day of her baby shower. the Dr. told her it was a crimp in the cord. After a while she found out she has a blood clotting disorder. She had to take shots twice a day her whole second pregnancy. I pray for you and your family.
I gave birth to a stillborn baby boy at 18 weeks after a very complicated pregnancy. I was in the hosp.every weeek or two with minor bleeding,fainting spells,ect. I was told the baby was fine ,and some women just bleed for no good reason...but I felt something else was wrong.(i should mention i had 2 miscarriages prior to this) I have 3 beatiful children and all were un-eventful. I started experiencing what I recognized as labor,went to the hosp. and was told it was "just cramping." the doc did an ultrasound and the baby appeared to be fine but she suspected placental abruption. i was sent home,and at 1am i awoke to my water breaking and heavy bleeding. we rushed to the ER but he had already passed.I almost delivered him in the car...as soon as they got me on the table he came right out and the doc said those awful words..."I'm so sorry..."I screamed at my fiance.."he's dead!!!!"We were both in shock. One year later,almost to the day, i found out I was preg. again. I fell at work,so they gave me a u/s and found no heartbeat. one week later...still no heartbeat and my HCG levels were dropping...my baby had died. About a week later i had the miscarriage. this was 3 days ago, and I AM BROKEN. I lost alot of blood w/ these last 2 losses, enough to scare my fiance,he thinks if i try again he might lose ME. We decided to have my tubes tied...but i must admit, I'm a little worried about rushing into this while i'm not entirely clear minded...maybe i'll regret it later..idk. My heart goes out to all parents who have experienced this kind of loss. may God be with you all.
Hey everybody, i just like to share my story with you, We lost our beautiful boy on 26 May 2010 I was 31weeks 2 days, its allmost 4 months now I miss him so much. Everything was perfect with our pregnancy I was on a low risk, but the monday i noticed that our boy didnt move at all but went to the hosp on the tuesday and there they searched for his heart beat and there was nothing, our lives fell apart at that moment, I think of him every day. I hope everyone gets the answers you are hoping for. I know the feeling of emtyness
I was 36 weeks pregnant, i had a stillborn son (Dalton James) on January 14, 2010 he was 6.6oz and 21 inches long. I had him at 5:10pm that day. I was 19 years old. my first child. i was crushed. i am still hurting. it has been 8 months now. I had a funeral for him on January 19, 2010. it was a cold winter day. the lady who spoke at my funeral did a great job. i have a copy of that and all of the other things i recieved at the hospital.
So was the father with you or was this to be a government supported baby but anyway my heart goes out to you on the lost of your love one.
Hello my name is loretta mcgee and I had two stillborn babys last year my first stillborn. Was a girl her name is nieasha rose jones she was 4pd 4oz and my second stillborn was a boy and his name is omar sincere burton jr. He was 2 pd 15oz and I also have three girls. That's still here with me iam so scare to have another baby because I have high pressurer
i lost my son bobby dean at 8 months pregnant in feb this year he weighed 6lb 6oz lookt perfect he was my 5th baby so i thought my pregnancy was going well until i started bleeding on a saturday night i went to hospital was told hed died i gave birth to him n i had a bleed and was rushed to theatre i was operated on for 5 hours after having a 17 pint blood transfusion i was in intensive care for two weeks very ill ive been told still have trouble accepting what happend the feelings i have are unbearable at times almost to the point that i question my exhistance the feelings i have wont go i loved him so much xx
I've recently been told by my doctor that my baby wouldn't make it to full term.. I've had to choice to carry on the pregnancy or to abort it and I've decided to carry her ad far as I can.. I'm 21 weeks. All my other pregnancies have been miscarriages.. And my son died of SIDS when he was almost 3 months.. I just don't know what Im doing wrong.. Every time I feel my little girl kick me I keep wondering if that's the last time ill feel her move.. Reading these slightly help me in knowing I'm not the only one whose hurting.. I'm not the only one whose going through hell.. Mommy loves you little princess..
I am praying for you, admiring your courage and in awe of the unadulterated, pure love that simply shines through despite your pain....sincerely.
I'm replying to my own comment.. I had my little girl.. She looked like a little angel.. She stole our hearts and flew away with them on July 4 2011.. I miss my little princess.. Mommy loves and misses you Aubree..
I just want to send you a hug. I lost my son to a cord accident at 18 weeks and now have a little girl. It is so unfair that you have so much love to give and keep facing the loss of your beautiful babies. I think it is a brave decision you made - honorable and loving ad I hope that each kick bought you the joy of knowing how much you love each other. I read this quote the other day and loved it and wanted to share it with you. Take care - Pia "No one else will ever know the strength of my love for you. After all, you're the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside" -Author Unknown.
I lost my first child at 8 weeks in Dec and then my beautiful baby girl (Marii-Lynn Marie) on June 3rd at 24 weeks pregnant. She was diagnosed with Turners Syndrom, cystic hygroma (fluid around back and neck), and hydops(fluid built up around heart and lungs) at 19 weeks. We knew there was always a chance of losing her, they kept telling us she wouldnt make it past 3 monthes and she did. She was a fighter. We began to have a lot more hope when she started growing and developing regularly so her death was a bit more of a shock. Knowing your going to lose your child and it actually happening is a very horrible feeling. More pain than anything I have ever experianced before. The hospital I used and the doctor was just horrible, they did both of us very wrong and I am going to sue. My only concern now is will I be able to get pregnant again and have a healthy pregnancy. All I have ever wanted is children. If I can't do it then we will adopt or become foster parents for diabled children. The power of prayer is strong and may God be with you all. Thank you for reading.
I am sorry to all the women that had to go through this. I know we were taking it bad. We got married 3 years ago. We had our first miscarriage the first year then the second year we had another miscarriage. last year in November I got pregnant but I didn't have any idea because I was told because I had Polycystic Ovarian syndrome I couldn't get pregnant for a few years. I found out when I was 20 weeks pregnant on March 31, 2011. We were so happy to finally be starting our family. Everything went fine nothing seemed to be going wrong at all. I went in for my 28 week check in and our baby boy I measured the right amount I gained right in the good amount of weight to gain for pregnancy. But they couldn't find a heart beat then rushed us to an ultrasound in the hospital and was told he was dead. 30 minutes later I got the induction started. after about 12 hours of labor I finally had him and he was beautiful ... he looked almost exactly like his father. No deformities that they found but they found a blood clot had popped and no blood got to him and he died in seconds. It was our first child and its only been a month and 2 weeks since it happened. We had a funeral. I want to have another baby as soon as we can which I was told 3 months was ok but if we could to do 6- 12 months for a better time. I just wish someone could tell me the next pregnancy would be fine... I don't want to go through all the pregnancy and labor not to take a baby home with me. Anyone else feel this way and have Advice.
My husband and I were 36 weeks pregnant with a baby girl RIver Dahlia Gehr will be her name. Saw my midwife on a friday and everything was perfect, didn't feel movement all day tuesday, and on Wedrsday morning my midwife and an ultrasound confirmed her heart had stopped. I was aloud to go home, put her things away, and return to the hospital in the morning to be induced. I started on cytotec and avoided putocin for as long as possible, 4 days, on the morning of October 3, 2011 I started putocin and by 11:30 I had delivered a beautiful 5 lb 1 oz i 19 inch angel. her cord had wrapped twice around her neck, and somehow I find peace in knowing what happened and to not have it be a giant mystery. As for me I can't stop thinking about our next pregnancy. it's like Im placing an order with God and it can't come fast enough! but I know as soon as that day comes, my red flag with go up and anxieties with kick in. this is a big challenge because these are 2 things no growing fetus want s and yet I have such faith in a higher spirit that there is no way it would happen again and I am forever guided by my angel. Life and death are best friends, they go hand in hand and we have except it. We have to know that we are meant to be mothers and fathers, life throws curves and what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. We have been blessed to carry these lives within us if only for a short time and we are closer to God because of them. One day in what seems like so far away, but is really just around the corner, we will have a new child who we cherish even more because of our current losses. Stay strong
I lost my angel Jayla Renee on March 25,2012 . I feel the se way. I want to have more children but I am so afraid that the same thing will happen how in the world can I possibly prevent it from happening again. I want my baby do badly , I still have her room ready for when she comes home my sweet angel Jayla
I wrote this in July of 2011. I found out I was pregnant 11 months later and the pregnancy was high risk. I found a new obgyn and new hospital. Everything went fine and I had a perfectly healthy little boy 5 lbs 14 oz and 173/4 inches long after a long and complicated pregnancy that was induced at 36 weeks. I had pre-eclampsia that kicked up at around 34 weeks and gestational diabetes around 28ish weeks. After the birth of my little boy about 9 months later I got pregnant again. Long complicated pregnancy in which I had Interuterine Growth Restriction, put in the hospital for steroids and a induction at 32 weeks 5 days I had my 2nd little boy living. He was 3 lbs 7 oz and 16 inches long. He stayed in the NICU for 3.5 weeks and has grown well since. I am 15 weeks pregnant now after my youngest turned13 months. I am just sharing(if anyone reads this) that you can have successful pregnancies after having a terrible, grief filled travisty. I wish all women the best of luck on another pregnancy.
i was 7 months to the day when I lost Isabelle Marie the week before she was fine and then they found no heatbeat and there was fluild on the heart and on top of that the cord was wrapped around her neck she was 4lb and 8 oz and 17 ins long she was just too small to survive my heart goes out to all the mothers that have lost their babies it is so heart breaking and the feeling of emptyness and grief i was 17 years old when this happened and now i have 2 beautiful boys came out being perfect Johnathan is 3 1/2 years and connor is 3 1/2 months johnathan was 2 weeks late being born and connor was a week early but not a day goes by that i don't miss Isabelle I didn't get a chance to meet her or hear her laugh n play with her brothers being a big sister to her brothers she would of been 6 this semtember
I am sorry to everyone who has experienced this difficult loss. I am a nurse and work as an assistant to a home birth midwife. Just days ago now, I attended the delivery of a beautiful 8lb 8oz girl who would not breathe and did not have a heart beat. It was a complete shock. We immediately began CPR and called 911. She is still in the NICU and being treated with "cold therapy" in an attempt to minimize the brain damage, but the outlook is not so good. I feel horrible for the family and I just can't believe that this has happened. This mom was extremely low risk, no complication, and it was such a lovely "textbook" labor. I wish there was something I could do to ease the pain or change the outcome for this family and for anyone who has had to deal with something so incredibly painful.
Alyssa Mae passed away three weeks ago (at 38.5 weeks). We had a scheduled c-section booked for Thursday July 7th. I went in to the hospital on July 5th for a non-stress test because I wasn't feeling alot of movement and was told that there was no longer a heart beat. My husband and I were devasted, 48 hours before my baby's planned birthday, she had died due to two knots in her cord, one directly tied over the other. We delivered her via c-section, and had a funeral for her four days later. My heart aches for her everyday and although nothing can ever replace the love that I feel for her, my husband and I are willing to give this one more try in a few months. We are hoping to get pregnant again sometime soon. Although I will never know the reason why Alyssa was an Angel Baby, I strongly believe that she is in a much better place and that she is always with us in spirit. Miss you my love!