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A stillbirth is the death of an unborn baby that has been in the mother’s womb for 20 weeks or more. Stillbirth is a term that describes when a baby dies and is not a cause of death. Stillbirth cuts across all socio-economic classes, races, religions, body types and maternal age groups. No woman is immune.
While stillbirth rates have decreased by more than 50 percent since the 1970’s, there are still more than 25,000 babies stillborn in the U.S. each year . . . that equals 70 babies each and every day.
Research has identified several risk factors that may lead to a stillbirth:
Stillbirth can be caused by problems with the mother, baby, placenta or umbilical cord. In stillbirths where a cause was identified by an autopsy, some common causes include:
It is important to note that nearly two-thirds of all stillbirth deaths remain unexplained. Experts warn that this is most likely due to the fact that in many hospitals, autopsies are not required by law.
At this time, there is no way to predict or prevent all stillbirths. But there are many things that pregnant mothers can do to reduce the risk of stillbirth.
Your baby moves many times a day. Your baby’s kicks are the best sign of his or her health. Thanks to ongoing research, kick counting is now being recognized as the first proactive strategy to help reduce your baby’s risk of stillbirth.
Starting at week 28 (earlier for high-risk pregnancies) set aside time each day to count and keep track of your baby’s movements (kicks, twists, turns, swishes or rolls). This will help you know what the “normal” pattern for your baby is, so you can more easily notice any changes in the pattern of your baby’s movements. Experts agree that a change (increase or decrease) in your baby’s normal kicking pattern may be a signal that there is a problem.
Visit Kicks Count! for more information on kick counting, what to do if you are concerned and/or to download a handy Kicks Count! chart.
There is no evidence to reflect that stillbirth is hereditary. However, because 1 in 150 babies are stillborn, women within the same extended family may experience a stillbirth. It is important to note that these related women’s stillbirths may have no connection whatsoever.
Although all pregnancies can be considered a possibility for stillbirth to occur, 98% of all pregnancies result in the live birth of a healthy baby.
Most mothers that experience a stillbirth death will deliver their baby vaginally, but C-sections are not uncommon. The health and well being of the mother, such as pain control options and supportive family members and birth assistants can help ease the overwhelming emotional and physical pain of stillbirth.
It is encouraged that the parents and other family members spend some personal time together to hold the baby and say hello before saying goodbye. Many photographers offer their services to take photos that can be treasured in the years to come. Make decisions on what is best for you and any cultural beliefs you may have.
Medically speaking, autopsies on all stillborn babies are critical in order to obtain more definitive and comprehensive answers – and ultimately prevent as many stillbirth deaths as possible. Finding a cause of death through autopsy is also important for those parents that may consider another pregnancy.
Most states require that parents take responsibility for their child’s remains, whether that be by burial or by cremation. Having a funeral or memorial service for a stillborn baby helps many families say goodbye and brings closure that will help with the healing process.
Immediately following the stillbirth of their baby, families are often in a very intense grieving period. Everybody grieves differently, so remember to be patient. Saying things such as, “I’m so sorry,” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through but I promise to be here for you whenever you might need me,” will let the family know that you care and that they can depend on you. However, statements like, “You can have another baby,” or “It was God’s will,” may upset the parents during an already extremely difficult time.
First Candle provides a 24 hour a day, seven days a week crisis hotline for all those affected by the death of a baby at 1.800.221.7437. Bilingual crisis counselors are on hand and referrals to local resources can be made. Our web site also provides resources for grieving families, as well as memorial opportunities. Other resources include:
Last Updated: Jan 13, 2010