Stillbirth Risk Factors
The first 12 weeks of pregnancy are often viewed as a dangerous period for parents, due to the high risk of miscarriages during this time. However, stillbirths are still a risk later in pregnancy and can often cause an immense amount of grief to parents who have been experiencing an otherwise problem-free pregnancy.
What Is It?
A stillbirth is defined as the death of a fetus after the 20th week of pregnancy up to birth. Approximately one in every 200 pregnancies will be a stillbirth. While 14% of stillbirths occur during delivery, the vast majority of stillbirths occur before this time.
One of the first indications that something might be wrong with a fetus is a decrease in movement. If you notice that your baby is moving significantly less than usual or not at all, call your health care provider right away.
Your health care provider should also be notified if you have unusual vaginal bleeding. If the bleeding is accompanied by a lack of movement by the fetus, call your health care provider immediately.
At the Doctor's
Once you are at your health care provider, an ultrasound will be performed to determine the health of your baby. If your baby has died, the ultrasound may reveal the reason. Testing of your blood may also be performed to help determine the cause of death.
Once a child has died in the uterus, a woman's body will usually go into labor within two weeks after the death. However, for many women it is too upsetting to wait for labor to begin. Your health care provider can induce labor either immediately after diagnosing the stillbirth or, if you prefer, after two weeks if your body hasn't naturally gone into labor yet.
If the cause of death hasn't been determined already, tests may be performed on the baby and the placenta to provide this information. Unfortunately, as many as one third of stillbirths have no determinate cause.
What Causes Stillbirths?
One of the common reasons for stillbirths is placental abruption. This is when the placenta begins to strip away from the uterine wall, causing heavy bleeding and deprivation of oxygen to the fetus.
Chromosomal abnormalities are another cause of stillbirths. While they are the most common factor for miscarriages in the first trimester, a miscarriage due to a chromosomal abnormality can occur at any time during a pregnancy.
Other causes of stillbirth include gestational growth problems, environmental factors, genetic defects, and bacterial infections (such as listeriosis) in the mother. Additionally, the risk of a stillbirth increases with the maternal age.
Women who smoke or drink alcohol during their pregnancies increase their child's risk of being stillborn. In fact, smoking when you're pregnant can increase the risk of placental abruption by as much as 50%. Women who suffer from preeclampsia also increase the risk of placental abruption by 50%. Women who have experienced a stillbirth in a previous pregnancy should receive careful, regular prenatal care to ensure another stillbirth does not occur.
It is always important to receive regular prenatal care whe you are pregnant. However, if you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, proper prenatal care becomes imperative to both your health and the health of your baby. It is because of the careful monitoring of women with high-risk pregnancies that the rate of stillbirths has declined over the years.
There are a couple of things that you can do at home to help monitor your baby's health. A fetal heart monitor for home use can help alert you to any problems with your baby. Alternatively, you could also start counting the number of kicks your baby does everyday after the 25th week or so. If your baby produces less than ten kicks a day, make an appointment with your health care provider to ensure that everything is okay.
While placental abruption can have serious consequences, it doesn't have to result in a stillbirth. Since a common sign of placental abruption is bleeding, any unusual vaginal bleeding you experience should be reported to your health care provider. If the placenta has started to detach itself from the uterine lining, an emergency cesarean can prevent your child from being stillborn.
After a Stillbirth
A pregnancy loss is always difficult for parents. It is important that you allow yourself to grieve in a way that you feel comfortable with. Seek out counseling if you feel it will help. There are many support groups and organizations that are dedicated solely to helping parents who have suffered a stillbirth.
Pregnancy after a stillbirth is possible. However, give yourself time to heal, both physically and mentally, before trying again. The likelihood of a recurrent stillbirth will depend on the cause of the first stillbirth. While a genetic defect could appear in another pregnancy, a stillbirth caused by a chromosomal abnormality is unlikely to repeat itself.
When you do become pregnant again, take care to receive proper prenatal care throughout your pregnancy to help prevent another stillbirth from occurring.
Many women find it beneficial to write about their experience with pregnancy loss in order to help themselves heal. If you would like an outlet for your emotions, then consider visiting Pregnancy Stories, where you can post your own tale of stillbirth while helping other women also dealing with miscarriage realize that they are not alone.
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