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Stillbirth - Topic Overview

Is this topic for you?

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:

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.

Talk to your doctor about how you are coping. He or she will want to watch you for signs of depression. You may want to have counseling for support and to help you express your feelings.

It may help to create a memory book of your pregnancy and baby. Many parents name their baby and want to take pictures and keep a lock of hair. The hospital may take photographs or footprints for you. Some parents have a ceremony, such as a christening or other blessing or a funeral service.

You also may want to talk to others who have gone through this loss. You can make connections online or in person:

  • The Compassionate Friends is a resource for people who have lost a child. The group can help put you in touch with one of its support groups in your area. The website is www.compassionatefriends.org.
  • Share (Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc.) also can offer advice and connections to others who have lost a child. The group's website is www.nationalshare.org.
  • The International Stillbirth Alliance also offers support and resources. Its website is www.stillbirthalliance.org.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 01, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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