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Health & Pregnancy

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Understanding Stillbirth -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know if I Will Have a Stillbirth?

Stillbirths are rare -- they happen in only 1 in 200 pregnancies. But if they do happen, many stillbirths take place before labor. They often happen to women who have no specific risks, and there are usually no warning signals.

If you're at risk of a stillbirth, or if you feel a change in your baby's movements, your doctor or midwife may order tests to check that your baby is healthy. These tests may include ultrasound and a nonstress test (NST) to record the baby's heartbeat and movement.

Testing for Causes After a Stillbirth

After the delivery of a stillborn baby, your doctor may ask your permission to examine the baby's body to find out what went wrong. A specially trained doctor called a pathologist will perform an autopsy. This exam may involve special tests, including genetic testing. The results may help you find out your likelihood of a future healthy pregnancy and provide some comfort by answering questions about your baby's death.

This evaluation doesn't need to interfere with any plans you'd like to make for your baby's funeral. Testing is a personal decision to be made after discussing it with your partner, doctor, and supportive family members. You may also find it helpful to talk with a grief counselor for advice and support.

If the stillbirth is due to a genetic disorder, you may be referred to a genetic counselor for further testing. A genetic counselor can review your medical history and provide information about the risk of birth defects in future pregnancies.

What Are the Treatments for Stillbirth?

If your baby passes away before birth, there are usually several options for delivering the baby. In many cases, there is no need to do this immediately unless you have medical complications. However, your doctor will want to schedule a time in the near future for you to deliver. Most stillborn babies can be delivered vaginally after induction of labor, unless there are specific reasons for cesarean delivery.

If possible, before entering the hospital, consider whether you want special arrangements. You may want a private room or a room away from other women having babies. Think about whether you want to see your baby, give the baby a name, or have photographs taken. This has been a common practice since the 1980s in the belief that doing so helps women adjust to the loss.

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