Fetal Development


Now that you are pregnant, you may find yourself worried about the health and wellbeing of your baby. You may be especially nervous about your ...

by Staff


Now that you are pregnant, you may find yourself worried about the health and wellbeing of your baby. You may be especially nervous about your pregnancy during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, as it is during this time that miscarriages most commonly occur. However, if you are pregnant, there is a risk of stillbirth later in your pregnancy. Like miscarriage, a stillbirth can be an emotionally and physically traumatic experience. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stillbirth as your progress through your pregnancy.

What Is a Stillbirth?
Stillbirth refers to the death of a fetus anytime after the 20th week of pregnancy. Stillbirths can occur right up until the time of labor and delivery. Generally, stillbirth is only experienced in about 1 out of every 200 pregnancies. Most stillbirths occur before delivery, however, up to 14% of all stillbirths do occur during the delivery period.

Signs of a Stillbirth
If you are pregnant, it is important that you be able to recognize the signs of a possible stillbirth. By catching the symptoms early on, it may be possible to prevent a stillbirth from occurring. Warning signs include:

  • lack of movement from you baby
  • significant decrease in baby’s movement
  • vaginal bleeding

If you notice any change in your baby’s movements, it is important to notify your health care provider as soon as possible.

Risk Factors for Stillbirth
Though any pregnant woman can experience a stillbirth, certain factors do increase your risk of having a stillborn baby. These factors include:

  • alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • drug use during pregnancy
  • preeclampsia during pregnancy

Diagnosing a Stillbirth
While diagnosing a stillbirth is not a pleasant thing to do, it is necessary if your baby has stopped moving or if you are experiencing continued vaginal bleeding. Your health care provider will perform a pregnancy ultrasound in order to determine the health of your baby. An ultrasound creates an image of the inside of your uterus and projects this image onto a screen. Using an ultrasound, your health care provider can determine the age, weight, and sex of your baby. She can also determine how healthy your baby is.

Treating a Stillbirth
A stillbirth generally requires no treatment as it usually resolves naturally. Once a baby dies inside the uterus, your body will go into labor within two weeks of the death. Your body will expel the baby as your progress through labor.

It can be very emotionally upsetting to wait for your body to naturally progress into labor though. Many women who experience a stillbirth opt to have labor induced immediately. Labor can also be induced if your body takes longer than two weeks to go into labor.

Causes of Stillbirths
Stillbirths can be the result of a variety of different factors.

Placental Abruption: Placental abruption occurs when the placenta begins to tear away from the wall of your uterus. This prevents your baby from getting enough oxygen or the nutrients that he needs to survive. Placental abruption can also result in heavy bleeding.

Chromosomal Abnormality: Sometimes, babies are created with chromosomal abnormalities. These babies can have difficulties with proper development, motor skills, speech, and memory. In some cases, children with chromosomal abnormalities can become very sick, and even die. Your body can sometimes sense when your baby is suffering from a chromosomal abnormality, causing a miscarriage. Other times, this chromosomal abnormality goes undetected until your baby grows to a point where it can no longer support itself. One of the main reasons for a stillbirth is chromosomal abnormality.

Other causes of stillbirths include:

  • bacterial infections
  • gestational growth problems
  • environmental risks

Preventing Stillbirths
Over the past twenty years, the number of stillbirths in the United States has decreased by almost 50%. This is probably related to the increased quality of maternal care and new knowledge about maternal risk factors in stillbirth. If you are worried about a possible stillbirth, there are a few things that you can do to help prevent it.

Get Proper Prenatal Care: It is very important to receive regular prenatal health care throughout your pregnancy. Your prenatal health care provider can ensure that your baby is safe and that you are doing all that you can to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Prenatal care can also identify possible problems early on, so that they can be resolved without any major pregnancy complications.

Monitor Baby’s Movements: It is a good idea to keep track of how much your baby moves on any given day. This will help you to recognize any changes in your baby’s daily action patterns. Count the number of kicks that your baby performs every day after the 25th week. If she is producing less than ten kicks a day, consult with your health care provider to make sure that everything is okay. You can also rent a fetal doppler machine to help monitor your baby’s heart rate.

Pregnancy After Stillbirth
If you have experienced a stillbirth, you may be fearful about trying for another pregnancy. This is understandable stillbirth is a very traumatic experience. Pregnancy after a stillbirth is entirely possible, though it is important that you give yourself time to heal, both physically and emotionally. Speak with family and friends about your experience, or seek counseling for stillbirth support. This will help to make your next pregnancy a positive and happy experience.

The likelihood of a recurrent stillbirth depends upon the cause of your initial stillbirth. While repeated stillbirths do happen, they are very uncommon. Even in the case of genetic defects, recurrent stillbirths are very unlikely.


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