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Reproductive System Guide

Alison Beaver

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Stillbirth: The Loss of a Baby Late in Pregnancy

By Joanna Karpasea-Jones
 
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Stillbirth: The Loss of a Baby Late in Pregnancy 4 5 1
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Photo: Getty Images

Stillbirth occurs when a baby is born dead at a very late stage of pregnancy. In the United States, the loss of a baby will be classed as stillbirth if the baby dies after 20 weeks gestation. This varies in different countries. In the UK, for instance, it is after 24 weeks, the time when a baby would be able to live outside the womb if he had survived.

Almost one in every 200 American babies is stillborn and in half of these cases, doctors can find no cause for it.

Signs of Fetal Death

• Vaginal bleeding
• Baby stops kicking
• Heartbeat cannot be heard with stethoscope or Doppler
• Ultrasound scan confirms no fetal movement or heartbeat.

There are certain groups of women who may be at higher risk of having a stillborn baby. These are obese women, those with diabetes and high blood pressure, and those who suffered with preeclampsia, obstetric choleostasis or thrombophilia during pregnancy.

Women who had an infant die previously are also more likely to lose a subsequent baby through stillbirth. Black women with a previous loss have a nine times greater risk of stillbirth than white women.

Problems with the baby may result in stillbirth. Babies who are small-for-dates and don’t grow at the expected rate in the uterus have a greater risk of dying before birth.

Pattern of movement slows down prior to their death for some babies so a changes in the frequency of fetal kicks is a warning sign.

Other known causes of stillbirth are:

• Congenital abnormality in the baby
• Maternal hemorrhage before or during labor
• Infection with group B strep
• Cord knots (umbilical cord accidents, where the cord becomes knotted or tied around the baby's neck, cutting off circulation)
• Failure of the placenta.
• Babies who are born at more than 42 weeks of gestation are at a slightly increased risk of stillbirth.

If, after ultrasound examination, the obstetrician finds that the baby has died and labor has not begun, an induction of labor will be offered. In some cases, the couple may decide to wait to go into labor naturally. This usually happens within two weeks of the baby’s death.

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