Pregnancy Loss: Stillbirth

Experiencing a stillbirth can be a devastating experience for couples trying to conceive. Luckily, there are resources to help individuals coping with a stillbirth. The following guide can provide an overview to better understand this type of pregnancy loss, including what the causes of stillbirth are, the risk factors for stillbirth, and advice regarding recovery from stillbirth.

What is a Stillbirth?

A miscarriage is defined as the death of a fetus before 20 weeks of pregnancy. If a fetus dies after this time, it is considered a stillbirth. A stillbirth often comes unexpectedly, since pregnancy risks are often considered higher in the early stages of pregnancy. In addition, a stillbirth can occur in both healthy pregnancies, as well as higher risk pregnancy due to health complications.

A stillbirth can take place in the uterus (intrauterine death) or the birth canal during labor and delivery (intra-partum death).

Causes of Stillbirth

There are different factors that may contribute to the causes of stillbirth. One common cause of stillbirth is a chromosomal abnormality, which also one of the most common causes of miscarriage. Other genetic or birth defects due to a variety of risk factors may lead to a stillbirth.

Another cause of stillbirth is due to placental abruption, which occurs when the placenta moves away from the walls of the uterus, causing oxygen deprivation and heavy bleeding.

Bacterial infections in the mother may also harm the fetus and lead to stillbirth. These can include toxoplasmosis, listeria, rubella, and sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis. Maternal health complications such as diabetes, preeclampsia, and liver disease are other potential causes of stillbirths.

Lastly, birth trauma experienced during delivery may cause a stillbirth. This can include a dislocation of the shoulder or asphyxiation, which occurs when the umbilical cord wraps around the neck.

Risk Factors for Stillbirth

The following are potential risk factors for stillbirth:

  • smoking
  • alcohol consumption
  • preeclampsia
  • previous stillbirth
  • having a multiple pregnancy
  • pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure
  • maternal age over 35
  • using illicit drugs

Signs of Stillbirth and Treatment

One of the first warning signs of stillbirth is a noticeable decrease in the movement of the fetus as well as any unusual vaginal bleeding. It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience these symptoms.

A doctor can diagnose a stillbirth and the potential cause of stillbirth by performing an ultrasound and blood test. Typically, a woman will go into labor within the two weeks following the stillbirth. However, a health care provider can induce labor at any time following the stillbirth.

Unfortunately, almost one third of all stillbirths have no determined cause; however, a doctor may try to determine the cause of stillbirth by performing additional tests on the baby as well as the placenta.

Recovery from Stillbirth

Experiencing a stillbirth is often a devastating time for couples. While it is possible to become pregnant following a stillbirth, it is important to allow yourself ample time to grieve during the process of recovery from stillbirth.

Coping with a stillbirth will involve both physical as well as emotional recovery. Do not be afraid to seek out counseling or support from external resources. There are many organisations available to individuals and couples recovering from this type of pregnancy loss.