A stillbirth occurs when a developing fetus dies during the pregnancy before it is born. A mother may suspect that something is wrong with her pregnancy if the fetus stops moving and kicking, but a stillbirth can only be confirmed by a doctor or midwife and an ultrasound. An ultrasound is a test that allows a trained medical professional to see the baby in the womb. If a heartbeat cannot be found on the ultrasound (after 7 weeks of gestation), this indicates in most cases that the fetus has died. The pregnancy loss is considered a stillbirth if the pregnancy ends after 20 weeks.
Stillbirths occur in about 1 in 160 pregnancies and can be caused by problems with the chromosomes of the developing fetus, infections, problems with the placenta (the organ connecting the fetus to the wall of the uterus), and health problems in the mother such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Certain viral infections and medications may also increase the risk of a stillbirth. Many times the cause of a stillbirth is not known.
Stillbirths can often be overwhelming for parents and families, so it is important to talk to your obstetrician, family doctor, or midwife for additional information. They may suggest you speak with a genetic counselor if a chromosome abnormality or other genetic condition is suspected. Support groups are also a great resource of support and information and can help connect you to other families who have experienced a stillbirth.