What Happens In Stillbirth?

Months of excitement, anticipation, waiting and dreaming surround a pregnancy, and then it all goes wrong. There are no words to describe the devastation when the baby is lost.

Stillbirth and Miscarriage

The terms stillbirth and miscarriage are both used to define a lost pregnancy. A miscarriage occurs before the 20th week of gestation and a baby lost after that time and before delivery is termed stillborn. In the case of a stillbirth, the baby either dies in the womb or during the birthing process. Most frequently, the condition is detected while the baby is in the mother's uterus and sometimes not until labor is underway.

The Mystery

In more than half of the cases of stillbirth the reasons for the death are unknown and the causes are often unclear. There appears to be a strong link between poor or abnormal growth in the womb and stillbirth and where there has been a cause for the death identified, birth defects are cited in 15% of the cases as the cause. Other possible causes are traumas, for instance when the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the baby's neck.

Risk Factors

There are some risk factors known to be associated with stillbirth which include smoking during pregnancy, high blood pressure, diabetes, eclampsia and preeclampsia and multiple pregnancies. There is a need for more research into the causes of stillbirth, but better post-natal care has been singled out as perhaps one of the most important aspects to improving a newborn's chance of survival. Monitoring the baby in later months is critical. In the event of a stillbirth, in depth examinations of the baby and placenta following delivery as well as an internal autopsy can give clues and information for evaluating the cause, which potentially can bring some peace of mind to the parents.

Possible Causes

The identifiable causes of stillbirth are birth defects in the baby, placenta and/or umbilical cord problems or maternal illnesses or conditions which complicate the pregnancy and birth. Usually, stillbirths are not caused by something parents or family members have done or not done. When a baby dies in the womb the death can be confirmed by an ultrasound and the doctor will discuss the options of delivery. Many women opt for an induced labor rather than waiting for spontaneous labor to start. The option of a Caesarean section can be discussed as well. The parents will have the option of a post-mortem and placenta examination for their baby to discover any possible causes and perhaps help in the prevention of another possible stillbirth in any future pregnancies.

When the Unthinkable Happens

The parents may wish to spend some time with their baby, holding, loving and dressing the baby if they wish. Naming the baby and saying good-bye in a way that befits the family is helpful in the grieving process and can help the family to deal with their loss. The loss of a baby is tragic, and parents should be allowed as much time as they need to ensure their emotional well-being afterward.

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