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Stillbirth - Topic Overview

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This topic has information about the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy but before the baby is born. For information about pregnancy loss before 20 weeks, see the topic Miscarriage.

What is stillbirth?

Stillbirth is the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy but before the baby is born. It can happen during the pregnancy or during labor. Stillbirth occurs in about 1 out of 200 pregnancies.1

The loss of a baby is devastating and very hard to accept. You may wonder why it happened or blame yourself. But a stillbirth can happen even in a pregnancy that has been going well.

When stillbirth occurs before labor, a doctor usually delivers the baby either by giving the woman medicine to start labor or by doing surgery (cesarean section, or C-section).

What causes stillbirth?

In many cases, no one knows what causes stillbirth. But a cause often is found. A stillbirth may be caused by:

  • A problem with the baby's health, such as a birth defect or slowed growth and development.
  • A problem with the mother's health, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or a blood-clotting problem.
  • A problem with the placenta, such as the placenta tearing away from the uterus too soon (placental abruption).
  • An infection in the mother or baby.
  • A problem with the umbilical cord, such as twisting, which can cut off oxygen to the baby.

What kind of support will you need?

People go through grief in their own ways. You may cry a lot and feel angry and hopeless. You may want to blame yourself or someone else. It might be hard to eat or sleep.

You and your partner may not grieve in the same way. Each of you needs to take care of yourself in whatever way feels best. Tell your family and friends what they can do. You may want to spend time alone, or you may seek the comfort of family and friends. Try to eat healthy foods, get some sleep, and get exercise (or just get out of the house) to help you feel strong as you heal.

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