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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Stillbirth

Fetal death

Last reviewed: May 31, 2011.

A stillbirth is when a fetus that was expected to survive dies during birth or during the last half of pregnancy.

See also: Miscarriage

Information

Stillbirth is becoming less common as care for pregnancy improves. If you have a stillbirth, your health care provider may ask to carefully examine and test the fetus to determine the cause of stillbirth. This may help plan medical care for any future pregnancies. A full autopsy will be offered. You may decline this option if you wish.

Stillbirth can be caused by:

  • Birth defects
  • Chromosome abnormalities
  • Infection, in the mother or the fetus
  • Injuries
  • Medical conditions of the mother, such as diabetes, epilepsy, and high blood pressure
  • Placenta problems (placental detachment or poor placental function)
  • Sudden severe blood loss (hemorrhage) in the mother or fetus
  • Stopping of the heartbeat (cardiac arrest) in the mother or fetus
  • Umbilical cord problems

In about 15 - 35% of stillbirths, no explanation can be found.

Stillbirth is traumatic for the mother and her family. It can cause grief and lead to an increased risk for postpartum depression.

References

  1. Cunningham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al. Diseases and injuries of the fetus and newborn. In: Cunningham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al, eds. Williams Obstetrics. 23rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2010: chap 29.
  2. Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Churchill Livingstone; 2007.
  3. Dudley DJ, Goldenberg R, Conway D, Siler RM, Saade GR, Varner MW, et al. A new system for determining the causes of stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2010;116:254-260. [PMC free article: PMC3832680] [PubMed: 20664383]

Review Date: 5/31/2011.

Reviewed by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, University of Washington School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, WA; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Interventions for supporting parents' decisions about autopsy after stillbirthInterventions for supporting parents' decisions about autopsy after stillbirth
    Understanding the cause of a stillbirth is important to parents yet little is known how to help parents make difficult decisions about whether to have investigations carried out on their stillborn infant to help provide such information. These include autopsies, surgical investigations, imaging and other investigations. Information gained may help the bereaved parents to plan future pregnancies and assist in the management of these pregnancies. The findings would also add to research into the causes of stillbirth and the need to terminate pregnancies. Inadequate information and poor communication can lead some parents to avoid decisions or to regret making a decision not to have an autopsy examination.
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