Coping with Pregnancy Loss: Causes of Stillbirth

Stillbirth is a devastating type of pregnancy loss that, like miscarriage, causes much grief and sorrow for individuals, and often requires grief counseling. There are a variety of known causes of a stillborn baby. However, the cause of stillbirth is indeterminate in approximately one-third of all stillbirth cases.

Causes of Stillbirth

The following is a list of common causes of a stillborn baby; in some cases, more than one of these causes results in fetal death.

Birth Defects
One or more birth defects is the cause of stillbirth in 15 to 20% of cases. Nearly half of these birth defects are types of chromosomal irregularities, including Down's syndrome. Other causes of birth defects include environmental, genetic and unknown causes.
Chronic Health Problems
Serious health problems in the mother make up for about 10% of all stillbirths. Such health problems that can result in a stillborn baby include high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease.
Infection that can result in stillbirth can involve the mother, fetus or placenta. Causing 10 to 15% of all stillborn babies, some infections have no symptoms, including genital and urinary tract infections and fifth diseases. Because symptoms often do not appear, infection can remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated, increasing the risk of preterm birth or death. There is a particularly high risk of infection leading to stillbirth prior to 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Placental Problems
Placental problems account for 10 to 20% of all stillbirths. One of the most common types of placental irregularities is a condition known as placental abruption. In placental abruption, the placental peels away from the uterine wall prior to delivery from partially to almost entirely. This results in severe bleeding, which puts both mom and fetus at risk. The fetus can die as a result because of a lack of oxygen. Smoking and cocaine use during pregnancy increase the risk of placental problems.
Poor Fetal Development
Lack of proper fetal development accounts for approximately 20% of all stillbirths, as improper growth can sometimes lead to asphyxia. Preeclampsia and smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of poor fetal development. An ultrasound can help monitor fetal growth in order to reduce the risk of slow fetal development.
Umbilical Cord Problems
Accounting for 15% of all stillborn babies, umbilical cord accidents can occur in the form of a knot in the umbilical cord or abnormal placement of the cord in the placenta, which reduces oxygen supply to the baby.

Some less common causes of stillbirth include trauma (such as a car accident), asphyxia resulting from a complicated delivery and postdate pregnancy, when pregnancy lasts more than 42 weeks. Another rare cause of stillbirth is Rh disease, a condition in which the mother and baby’s blood are incompatible.

Factors that increase the risk of stillbirth include poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as the age of the mother (35 years of age and older).

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