Stillbirth is when a baby dies prior to being born. Technically it is after 20 weeks of gestation. It happens about 1 in 160 pregnancies. In the majority of cases, the stillbirth happens before labor about 85% of the time.
Most mothers note that their baby is not moving as much or just instinctually knows that something is not right with the pregnancy. Other mothers show up at their normal prenatal appointment with no clue that anything is wrong.
If a heart beat is not found in the normal manner, an ultrasound exam is performed to visualize the baby. During this exam a stillbirth is diagnosed if the baby’s heart is no longer beating.
Normally labor will occur naturally with in two weeks. Some couples prefer to wait for labor, while others choose to be induced sooner. Most of the time the options are up to the family, though occasionally there are medical reasons that the baby may need to be born sooner. Cesarean sections are generally not performed simply because the baby is stillborn.
Testing for a Cause
There will be blood tests for the mother and other tests of the baby after birth. There may be an autopsy or a detailed examination of the placenta. This is particularly true if there is no known cause for the stillbirth. About half of the cases of stillbirth remain due to unknown causes, other causes can be infection, poor fetal growth, placental issues, chronic health problems with mom, and birth defects.
While stillbirths can’t always be prevented there have been great strides in protecting babies. One huge factor is better management of chronic problems like Rh disease, diabetes and maternal hypertension. There is also more known about the health of the mother. So cutting out smoking and certain drugs can help reduce the rates of stillbirth. If you are experiencing a high risk pregnancy, your doctor may ask that you do daily fetal kick counts after 28 weeks of pregnancy. You may also have other tests at the end of pregnancy like a non-stress test or biophysical profile.