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
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
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
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).
In many cases, no one
knows what causes stillbirth. But a cause often is found. A stillbirth may be
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
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:
If you have lost a
baby, you may worry about a future pregnancy. But a stillbirth often happens
because of a one-time event. It doesn't mean that you won't go on to have a
Doctors often can do exams and tests to find out why
a stillbirth happened. They may examine the baby and the placenta. An
autopsy is sometimes done, if the parents want it, to
find the cause of death. Some parents find that this helps them by answering
their questions about what happened. And it may help find out if there is any
risk for a future pregnancy. A doctor also may test the parents to see if a
genetic problem may have led to the stillbirth.
You can't prevent
every problem. But some behaviors can increase the chance of a healthy baby.
Doctors encourage women to take care of themselves before they get pregnant and
during pregnancy. Eat a healthy diet that includes folic acid (especially
before you are pregnant and early in the pregnancy), and get regular exercise.
It's especially important to avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
Later in pregnancy, a doctor usually will ask a woman to keep track of
her baby's kicks and call right away if the baby is moving less than
Talk to your doctor about when he or she thinks you can
try to get pregnant again. Some doctors may suggest that women wait 2 or 3
months. Others may think it's best to wait longer. It depends on how quickly
your body heals and on what was done to help deliver the baby. For example, if
you had a C-section to deliver the baby, the uterus needs more time to
You also may want to make sure that you and your family are
emotionally ready to try again to get pregnant.
The March of Dimes tries to improve the health of babies
by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and early death. March of Dimes
supports research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies'
lives. The organization's website has information on premature birth, birth
defects, birth defects testing, pregnancy, and prenatal care.
This website has information about sudden infant death, grieving the loss of
an infant, and general infant health.
This organization provides mutual support for bereaved parents and
families who have suffered a loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal
death. SHARE provides newsletters, pen pals, and information regarding
professionals, caregivers, and pastoral care.
CitationsNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2010). Research on Miscarriage and Stillbirth. Available online: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/womenshealth/research/pregbirth/miscarriage_stillbirth.cfm.Other Works ConsultedAmerican College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2009, reaffirmed 2012). Management of Stillbirth. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 102. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 113(3): 748–761.National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2010). Research on Miscarriage and Stillbirth. Available online: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/womenshealth/research/pregbirth/miscarriage_stillbirth.cfm.
February 1, 2013
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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