Know More: Stillbirth

Trustworthy information, straight from the source. Education is the first step in an empowering healthcare plan. Learn more about stillbirth from prevention to diagnosis and treatment.

Pregnant woman meets with doctor

Condition Overview

What is stillbirth?

A stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most stillbirths happen before a woman goes into labor. Some stillbirths may happen during labor and birth.

What causes a stillbirth?

The cause of a stillbirth may not be known. The following are possible causes of a stillbirth:

  • Infections in the mother, baby, or placenta such as cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, or a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Complications during pregnancy such as preeclampsia, preterm labor, or trauma.
  • Problems with the baby such as birth defects, fetal growth restriction, or genetic conditions.
  • Problems with the placenta such as blood clots, swelling, or separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus.
  • Problems with the umbilical cord such as a knot that prevents oxygen and blood flow to the baby.
  • Problems during labor and delivery that prevent blood and oxygen from reaching the baby.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

How is stillbirth diagnosed?

A pregnant woman may notice that her baby is no longer moving and visit her healthcare provider, or she may find out at a regular prenatal visit. The provider listens for the baby’s heartbeat using a handheld ultrasound device called a Doppler. If there’s no heartbeat, an ultrasound is done to confirm that the heart has stopped beating and the baby has died.

How will my baby be delivered?

Talk to your healthcare provider about the ways your baby can be delivered. Your baby may be delivered by any of the following ways:

  • Natural labor may happen within two weeks after a stillbirth.
  • Induction of labor means your healthcare provider will give you medicine to make labor and delivery happen. Your labor may need to be induced if you do not go into natural labor within two weeks of a stillbirth.
  • Dilation and evacuation is surgery to deliver your baby. Your healthcare provider will dilate (open) your cervix and deliver your baby through your vagina.
  • A cesarean, or C-section, is surgery to deliver your baby. Your healthcare provider will make an incision in your lower abdomen. Your baby will be delivered through the incision.

It is your choice to see your baby after delivery. Healthcare providers can give you and those whom you are close with time alone with your baby. During this time you can hold your baby, take pictures, name your baby, or have a religious ceremony. Ask your healthcare provider if you can have something to remember your baby. This can include a handprint, a footprint, or his or her baby blanket.

Preparing for Care

What are my stillbirth care options?

Tests can be done to help find the cause of a stillbirth. Information from these tests may also help you plan for a future pregnancy. It is your choice whether or not to have you or your baby tested. Your healthcare provider may also examine the umbilical cord or placenta for problems.

Where can I get information to help me cope with the loss of my baby?

The loss of a baby can be very difficult for both you and your partner. You and the people whom are close to you, need time to grieve. You may feel shock, anger, emptiness, helplessness or loneliness. You may be at an increased risk for postpartum depression. Join a support group or find a counselor who can help you cope with the loss of your baby. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on support groups or where you can find help.

March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains , NY10605

First Candle
1314 Bedford Avenue, Suite 210
Baltimore , MD 21208
Phone: 1-800-221-7437