Stillbirth: Causes and Prevention

While the occurrence of stillbirth is much higher in developing countries, where prenatal care is not as advanced, stillbirth still remains a problem in Canada, occurring in approximately 1 in 200 pregnancies.

Stillbirth is the death of the baby sometime between 20 weeks of pregnancy and birth. The loss of the baby before 20 weeks of pregnancy is called a miscarriage. In many cases the cause of a stillbirth is never determined. In other cases, it may be obvious, such as when the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. In some cases, stillbirth may be caused by the actions or negligence of a medical practitioner, which may qualify as medical malpractice.

Numerous factors have been known to cause or contribute to stillbirth, including:

  • Genetic abnormalities in the fetus that lead to physical defects
  • Health problems or conditions suffered by the mother such as obesity, preeclampsia, or gestational diabetes
  • Certain infections contracted by the mother during or prior to pregnancy will affect the health of the fetus, including bacterial infections like
  • Group B Streptococcus, viruses like the flu, and parasitic infections like toxoplasmosis
  • Loss of oxygen to the fetus prior to birth, generally caused by a problem with the umbilical cord or the placenta.

Your doctor or midwife should monitor you closely during your pregnancy. You should be regularly assessed for risk factors associated with stillbirth.

The growth of your baby should be monitored regularly. If a fetus fails to develop at the expected rate, it may indicate that there is a problem with the placenta and the fetus is not getting enough oxygen to grow properly. 

Babies who are not born before 41 weeks of pregnancy face an increased risk of stillbirth. Doctors will usually recommend inducing labour before you reach 41 weeks of pregnancy.

Excessive bleeding, placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the womb before the birth of the baby), or twisting or clamping of the umbilical cord can all occur during labour. It is particularly important that the medical team monitors the fetus carefully during labour for signs of distress. If fetal distress is detected, steps should be taken to deliver the baby promptly. This will usually involve either the use of forceps or vacuum to deliver the baby or an emergency cesarean section, depending on how far the labour has progressed.

There are a number of possible causes of stillbirth. If you believe that your baby’s stillbirth was caused by medical malpractice, consult an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible.

Written by