Stillbirth or fetal death is a loss of the pregnancy. It is not a very common occurrence, but unfortunately remains as a very painful experience for many parents. Reasons and risk factors that lead to stillbirth are various and it is not simple to talk about exact ones in advance. Our aim is to explore the incident as closely as possible and inform our readers about common causes and threats.
What is stillbirth?
Stillbirth is the death of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most fetal deaths occur before a female goes into labor and a significantly less number of stillbirths happen during labour and birth. Miscarriage and stillbirth, both refer to a loss of pregnancy. The main difference lies within the stage of pregnancy when they occur (miscarriage before 20 weeks and stillbirth after). However stillbirth too has a further classification:
- An early stillbirth – happens between 20 – 27 weeks of pregnancy.
- A late stillbirth – happens between 28-36 weeks.
- A term stillbirth – happens during/after 37th week.
If a female stops to feel a baby moving or kicking, experiences cramping , pain and bleeding from the vagina, she should immediately call a doctor or go straight to the emergency room. The healthcare provider will use an ultrasound to check baby’s heartbeat.
Causes of stillbirth in the womb
While causes of stillbirth can be completely individual, based on the experience we listed all of the common reasons:
- Problems with the placenta
The exact reason why placenta may not function normally is not yet completely understood. However, we know that problems with the placenta is one of the most common causes of baby’s death in the uterus. As placenta provides oxygen and nutrients for the baby, it’s dysfunction causes problems with baby’s growth.
It may happen that placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth. This condition is called placental abruption. Females who smoke during pregnancy, are more likely to experience placental abruption than others.
Obesity, smoking, frequent alcohol and drug intake reduce the oxygen delivered to a baby via placenta.
If a female is several weeks past her due date, the placenta may not longer be as functional as before. In this case doctors will normally suggest to induce the labour in order to prevent placenta from ‘wearing out’.
Infections in placenta, mother or a child may cause serious complications. It also includes flu that mother has accidentally caught during pregnancy.
- Mother’s condition
Diabetes, high blood pressure, trauma, injury, thyroid disorder.
- Autoimmune disorder (Lupus)
Antibodies that are supposed to attack infections, might mistakenly attack any other tissue in the body. Doctors usually advise females with lupus not to get pregnant due to risks it may cause to mother as well as to child.
- Preterm Labour
Labour that begins earlier than 37th week of pregnancy.
- Fetal (Intrauterine) growth restriction
Sometimes babies are smaller than they should be for their gestational age. The prematurity is often the cause of stillbirth.
- Child’s health condition
Birth or chromosomal defects and genetic conditions can lead to fetal death. About 10% of stillborn babies have birth defects including down syndrome or insufficient development of an organ such as heart and brain.
- Mother’s age
As females get older, chances of stillbirth increase accordingly, reaching the highest point by the 41th week of pregnancy.
Reasons of stillbirth during labour and birth
- Not getting enough oxygen during labour and birth
- Shoulder dystocia
If baby is relatively large, it may happen that his or her shoulders are stuck behind mother’s pubic bone. Most of these children recover, but shoulder dystocia can still lead to the fetal death.
Several factors are confirmed to make female’s chances of stillbirth higher. It will not come as a surprise that risk factors include poor lifestyle choices. Females should know in advance that it is crucial to stay as healthy as possible while bearing a child.
Chances of fetal death may increase with:
- Smoking, alcohol and drug consumption during pregnancy
- Mother’s age (older than 35)
- Mother’s medical condition(diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus)
- Being pregnant with multiple children
- Previous pregnancy complications or losses (miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth …)
What follows after stillbirth in the womb?
Usually the labour will start itself after 2 weeks of fetal death. However, due to medical reasons (such as infection)health provider may recommend to give birth as soon as possible. Options include:
- Induced labour – doctor breaks amniotic sac or gives female a medicine. Labour will speed up with both of these methods.
- Cesarean birth – baby is delivered through a surgical procedure by doctor making a cut in the abdomen and uterus.
For the most of the females, fetal death is a single time experience. Doctors have to make sure that the health condition present during the previous pregnancy is not a threat any more. After females are ready mentally and physically, they manage to have a normal pregnancy and deliver healthy children. The keypoint is to never stop fighting and overcome all of the obstacles despite the painful experiences – just because it’s worth it.