The Impact of Stillbirth

A Foreboding Feeling

Waiting for the arrival of a new baby is a time of excitement and anticipation. New outfits, a nursery, baby toys, books and music fill a woman's head as she prepares for the birth. Along with all of the excitement, there can also be a nagging fear at the back of her mind, something she may often be pushing down. That fear is something most women deal with at one point or another in their pregnancy. The worry is that the baby may not be okay, that something may go wrong. Sadly, for some women, the fear becomes their reality. Their baby is not okay - their baby has died.

Stillbirth: What is It?

A stillbirth is the death of an unborn baby after 20 weeks gestation. The World Health Organization defines stillbirth as death of a baby after 22 weeks of pregnancy or when the baby weighs more than 500 grams. Regardless what the official definition says, stillbirth is the loss of a baby and that death is felt as acutely as any death of a loved one. The expectant parents are devastated and the loss is palpable.

What Did I Do Wrong?

There are always questions surrounding stillbirth - and more than ample guilt. The mother wants to know what happened, what went wrong and was there anything she did that caused her baby to die. Many stillbirths cannot be predicted and often the causes are not fully understood. They can happen in high-risk pregnancies as well as pregnancies that are normal and considered to be low-risk. Unexplained stillbirths are probably the most frustrating. They are not unexamined or unexplored. Unexplained stillbirths are those that, even after a post-mortem examination no definitive cause is found for the death.

What Happens When a Baby Dies In Utero

The death of an unborn baby is not usually a sudden occurrence. Most women who experience stillbirth note the gradual decrease in movement of their baby over a period of time. Studies indicate that 50% of unexplained stillbirths are connected with intrauterine growth restriction in which babies are not growing at a healthy and appropriate rate. This information may provide an opportunity for intervention and perhaps the saving of the baby's life.

Many stillbirths occur when the pregnancy is almost at full term. If it happens before labor starts, a woman may wait to go into labor naturally. However, this can take weeks sometimes, so it is safer to deliver in order to prevent complications and negative health consequences. Labor induction is the best way to deliver in a situation like this, or, a cesarean may be recommended. Many hospitals now perform an autopsy and evaluation of the placenta to determine the cause of death. The decision, whatever it is, should be based upon the emotional well-being of the mother.

Table of Contents
1. Emotional Impact of Stillbirth
2. WIll it happen again?
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