What Causes Stillbirth?

When a baby dies in the womb after 20th week of pregnancy, it is called stillbirth. Stillbirths often happen before a woman goes into labor, sometimes during labor and birth. Stillbirths are not that uncommon, as one in 200 babies is stillborn. Dealing with stillbirth can be quite hard for parents as it can happen suddenly without any symptoms.

What Causes Stillbirth?

1. Birth Defects

One of many causes of stillbirth is that the baby has a birth defect. This usually happens in about 15-20% of stillbirth cases. Environmental defects or chromosomal disorders are the two most common birth defects that lead to stillbirths.

2. Poor Fetal Growth

If an infant grows at an inadequate rate, he or she will die from lacking of oxygen. Although the reason of poor fetal growth is still unknown, it is proved that women who continue to smoke during pregnancy may put their babies at a higher risk of poor growth. Regular prenatal care helps identify such issues early, but it is hard to correct the problem in some situations.

3. Infections

If you are pregnant and develop a bacterial infection between the 24th and 27th weeks, you may have the risk of stillbirth. The problem is that most women do not notice any symptoms until it becomes too serious. Both urinary and genital infections can cause serious complications during pregnancy. Some infections may transfer from the mother to the baby through the placenta, and the common examples are fifth disease, toxoplasmosis, listeriosis, and sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, chlamydia, and herpes.

4. Cord Accidents

A stillbirth death may be the outcome of an accident involving the umbilical cord. This is true in about 15% of stillbirth cases. Accidents can be of different types, like there may be a knot in the umbilical cord, or the placement of the cord into the placenta may not be correct. These can deprive the baby of oxygen, which in turn causes stillbirth.

5. Chronic Health Conditions

What causes stillbirth apart from infections and cord accidents? Maybe chronic health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, epilepsy, sickle-cell disease, lung disease, lupus, parathyroid disease or kidney disease are culprits. These chronic health conditions can contribute to placental abruption which can cause stillbirth. 

6. Placental Issues

Several types of placental issues also contribute to stillbirths. For instance:

  • Placental insufficiency: It means the placenta has not formed properly and is incapable of providing what the baby needs to thrive. This usually happens after the 20th week of pregnancy.
  • Placental abruption: It means the placenta is separated from the wall of the uterus due to the bleeding between the placenta and the uterine wall. This separation could be complete or partial.
  • Placenta previa: It means the placenta implants itself low in the uterus and covers the cervix. This will lead to bleeding as the uterus stretches itself for the growing baby, and the bleeding can cause stillbirth.

7. Cervix Problems

Any problem with cervix, a tight ring right at the base of the uterus, may put your baby in danger. Incompetent cervix is among the most common causes of stillbirth. About 15% of second-trimester losses occur because the cervix opens prematurely.

8. Other Risk Factors of Stillbirth

Many other risk factors can also contribute to stillbirths. You are more likely to have stillbirth babies if:

  • You are expecting twins or multiples
  • You are over 35 years old
  • You are obese with BMI over 30

Drinking alcohol, and misuse of drugs during pregnancy can also increase your risk of having a stillborn baby.

How to Prevent Stillbirth

Knowing what causes stillbirth helps understand what steps to take to prevent this problem. While some stillbirths cannot be prevented, there are still something you can do to reduce the risk. For instance:

  • Do not skip any prenatal appointments. Attending prenatal appointments regularly will help ensure that your baby is developing properly. They also help confirm that the placenta is of normal size and is working properly. What's more, attending prenatal appointments also help identify health problems early.
  • Monitor the movements of your baby. You should monitor your baby's movements, especially after 26 weeks of pregnant. It is important to keep track of kicks that your baby makes. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you count less than ten kicks a day.
  • Take steps to avoid infection. You already know that infections can be responsible for stillbirth, so you should take steps to avoid becoming infected. Do not eat improperly cooked foods during pregnancy and never handle cat litter. Be sure to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.
  • Inform your doctor in case of any pain or bleeding. You may experience some bleeding during pregnancy, but if it feels abnormal and is accompanied with pain, you should talk to your doctor immediately and report any other symptoms as well.
  • Pay attention to your diet. It is important to know which foods to avoid during pregnancy. For example, certain fishes such as marlin and some kinds of cheese such as the soft blue cheese should be avoided during pregnancy. Besides, only consume meat that is cooked thoroughly.
  • Lose weight before pregnant. What causes stillbirth? Being obese is another risk factor, so it is also important to talk to your doctor and ensure that you have a healthy body weight to become pregnant. If you are obese, work with a dietician to lose some weight before becoming pregnant. 
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