A stillbirth occurs when the baby has died after the 20th week of gestation. Statistics show that 1 out of every 200 pregnancies will end in a stillbirth and approximately 85% of stillbirths happen before labor actually begins. However, there are some stillbirths that do happen during labor and delivery.
While a stillbirth can not be totally prevented, there are certain things that a mother can do to lower the chances of it occuring. Quality routine prental care is crucial. Doctors are only able to diagnose and treat conditions if you present them with it. Women should report any concerns to her doctor. This includes bleeding, lack of fetal movement, signs of infection, sickness, etc. Doctors will monitor any high risk pregnancies that could lead to stillbirth. Pregnant mother should do a fetal kick count daily starting at atleast 28 weeks. Because smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs increases the risk of stillbirth, it should be avoided during pregnancy. It is best to be in optimal health before becoming pregnant because chronic health problems and obesity can increase the chances of a stillbirth.
A stillbirth can occur from a variety of reasons. 10-20% of stillbirths are caused by a problem with the placenta. Placental abruption is a leading cause of stillbirth as it will cause the placenta to pull away from the uterine wall and the baby can lack necessary oxygen. Another 20% of stillborn babies often have poor growth and have been growing improperly, making them susceptible to an increased risk of oxygen loss. Infections that involve the baby or mother are found in 10-25% of stillborn babies. Approximately 10% of stillbirths are caused by a chronic health problem that the mother experiences. High blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease are often the leading causes. Umbilical cord problems cause 15% of stillbirths. A fetus can lack oxygen if the umbilical cord becomes entangled, knotted or misplaced. Additional causes for stillbirths are car accidents, postdated pregnancies lasting longer than 42 weeks, Rh disease and problems that occur during delivery.
A stillbirth is usually suspected when a pregnant woman complains that her baby is not moving around. Some women go into their doctor's office and report a lack of fetal kicks when the devastating news is determined.
Fetal death is diagnosed via ultrasound examination. An ultrasound will confirm the baby has died by showing that there is no heartbeat. After the diagnosis, doctors will generally discuss delivery options with the expectant parents. In some cases, the woman will need to deliver the baby immediately. Most women decide to have their labor induced quickly after hearing the diagnosis. Labor will be artifically stimulated with vaginal suppositories that will help the cervix to dilate and Pitocin, which will stimulate contractions. Other mothers may choose to wait and go into labor on their own, which usually occurs two weeks after the death of the baby. Most doctors will not allow the pregnancy to continue pass two weeks in fear of complications.
After delivery, the placenta, umbilical cord and fetus will be carefully examined. In many circumstances, an autopsy will be offered. Most doctors will also do blood tests on the mother to determine the cause of death. However, not all cases have a justifiable cause. The likelihood of a stillbirth occuring in subsequent pregnancies varies from woman to woman. Placenta, umbilical and chromosomal abnormalities are not likely to happen again in another pregnancy. Chronic health conditions could put a couple at an increased risk of having another stillbirth though, so genetic counseling is often recommended.
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