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Stillbirth

Definition

A stillbirth is when a fetus that was expected to survive dies during birth or during the last half of pregnancy.

See also: Miscarriage

Alternative Names

Fetal death

Information

Stillbirth is becoming less common as care for pregnancy improves. If you have a stillbirth, your health care provider may ask to carefully examine and test the fetus to determine the cause of stillbirth. This may help plan medical care for any future pregnancies. A full autopsy will be offered. You may decline this option if you wish.

Stillbirth can be caused by:

  • Birth defects
  • Chromosome abnormalities
  • Infection, in the mother or the fetus
  • Injuries
  • Medical conditions of the mother, such as diabetes, epilepsy, and high blood pressure
  • Placenta problems (placental detachment or poor placental function)
  • Sudden severe blood loss (hemorrhage) in the mother or fetus
  • Stopping of the heartbeat (cardiac arrest) in the mother or fetus
  • Umbilical cord problems

In about 15 - 35% of stillbirths, no explanation can be found.

Stillbirth is traumatic for the mother and her family. It can cause grief and lead to an increased risk for postpartum depression.

References

Cunningham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al. Diseases and injuries of the fetus and newborn. In: Cunningham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al, eds. Williams Obstetrics. 23rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2010: chap 29.

Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Churchill Livingstone; 2007.

Dudley DJ, Goldenberg R, Conway D, Siler RM, Saade GR, Varner MW, et al. A new system for determining the causes of stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2010;116:254-260.


Review Date: 5/31/2011
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, University of Washington School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, WA; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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