Stillbirth: Sad Circumstance
A fetus that dies after 20 weeks of pregnancy is called a stillbirth (prior to 20 weeks, it is called a miscarriage). There are many causes for a stillbirth, including umbilical cord accidents, problems with the placenta, birth defects, infections, and maternal diabetes or high blood pressure (Incerpi et al., 1998). Oftentimes the fetal loss is completely unexpected, as half of all stillbirths occur in pregnancies that appeared to be without problems (Pasupathy & Smith, 2005). It is estimated that 14% of fetal deaths occur during labor and delivery, whereas 86% occur before labor even begins (Fretts et al., 1992). In most cases, a woman goes into labor approximately 2 weeks after the fetus has died; if not, her labor will be induced. Some ethnic differences have been noted: higher rates of stillbirth have been found in African-American and interracial couples (Getahun et al., 2005).
The frequency of stillbirths has been decreasing over the last few years in the United States, due in part to better treatment of certain maternal medical conditions. Many women are advised to do “kick checks” beginning in the 26th week of pregnancy. If a woman notices that her fetus is kicking fewer than 6 times in an hour or has stopped moving or kicking, fetal monitoring can be done to check on the status of the fetus. This practice has reduced the frequency of fetal death.