To be considered stillborn, a child must be delivered no earlier than 20 weeks into pregnancy. The delivery of a stillborn infant before the 20th week of pregnancy is called a miscarriage. Stillborn deaths occur in about one out of every 200 pregnancies, according to WebMD. Unlike many problems in pregnancy, which are easily recognizable, stillborn babies can result from otherwise seemingly normal pregnancies. Although having a stillborn child is devastating to parents, women who have one stillborn child typically go on to have normal, healthy future pregnancies, according to WebMD.
Causes of Stillborn Deaths
While healthcare professionals are still trying to understand all possible causes of stillbirths, they have a good idea of some factors that cause babies to be stillborn. Birth defects, which may or may not include a chromosomal abnormality, are one known cause. Abnormalities with the umbilical cord can also contribute to the baby's early death. The umbilical cord can prolapse, which prevents the baby from getting oxygen, and it can wrap around an infant's limb or neck before he or she is born, which causes suffocation. Another cause of stillborn death is a problem with the mother's placenta. In the case of a placental abruption, for example, the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus too soon, which robs the baby of essential nourishment. A baby can also die from lack of nutrition from an intrauterine growth restriction, or IUGR. Certain health conditions of the mother can increase the risk of stillbirth, too. Diabetes or high blood pressure, including preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure that arises during pregnancy, can also cause a stillbirth. A woman with a personal or family history of blood clotting problems such as thrombosis, thrombophlebitis or a pulmonary embolism, are also causes of stillbirths. Infections can kill babies during pregnancy, as can severe malnutrition. The mother's exposure to toxins in the environment, such as carbon monoxide and pesticides, can also lead to a stillbirth.
Risk Factors for Stillborn Deaths
Just as physicians know that there are certain causes of stillbirth, they know that certain factors increase a woman's risk of delivering a stillborn child. Although many women who have a pregnancy that ends in stillbirth go on to have successful pregnancies afterwards, having had one stillbirth puts them at a higher risk of having a stillborn baby in the future. Alcohol use and drug use are also risk factors for delivering a stillborn baby. Women who smoke or who are obese have a higher likelihood of having a stillborn baby. Women who become pregnant before the age of 15 or after age 35 are also at a higher risk of stillbirth.
Although they cannot control some factors that might increase their chances of delivering a stillborn child, women can make some personal and lifestyle changes to reduce the likelihood of having a stillborn child. Women should stop smoking, using drugs and drinking alcohol prior to becoming pregnant and during their pregnancy. They can also exercise, maintain a healthy weight and eat a nutritious diet. Women should also go for regular checkups with their physician during the course of the pregnancy, as healthcare providers can detect any abnormalities.