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Obstet Gynecol. 1992 Oct;80(4):593-600.

Estimating the time of death in stillborn fetuses: III. External fetal examination; a study of 86 stillborns.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.



To determine how accurately the time of fetal death can be predicted from the extent of external maceration in a stillborn fetus.


Autopsy photographs of 86 stillborns with well-timed deaths were studied retrospectively. Sixty randomly chosen fetuses (learning set) were assessed unblinded to develop proposed gross criteria for timing fetal death; 26 fetuses (test set) were then randomly and blindly assessed to test the accuracy of the proposed criteria.


The two earliest changes in the learning cases were areas of desquamation measuring at least 1 cm in diameter and brown-red discoloration of the umbilical cord stump. Both changes occurred primarily in fetuses with death-to-delivery intervals of 6 or more hours. Other early changes included desquamation involving the face, abdomen, or back (12 or more hours); desquamation involving 5% or more of the body surface (18 or more hours); brown skin discoloration (24 or more hours); and a moderate or severe extent of desquamation (24 or more hours). The only late change that correlated with a specific duration of intrauterine retention was mummification (2 or more weeks). When the 26 test fetuses were randomly and blindly assessed using these gross criteria, 18 (69%) were classified correctly with respect to the approximate time of fetal death.


External fetal examination is useful for estimating the time of death in many stillborns; this information may be helpful when a complete autopsy cannot be performed.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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