For more information or confidential assistance
Call 800-306-3180

Stillbirth Preventable But Rates Not Dropping

woman holding pregnant bellyMedical advances in the field of obstetrics have changed lives of women and children all over the world. Pregnancy and childbirth are safer now than they have been at any other point in history. However, stillbirth rates are not going down – even in advanced countries like the United States – though the majority are preventable.

In the United States, “stillbirth” refers to a loss at or after the 20th week of pregnancy, including during delivery. It affects less than 1% of all pregnancies, amounting to about 24,000 deaths each year, and most occur before labor and delivery.

About stillbirths

The likelihood of losing a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was cut in half during the 1990s thanks to the Back to Sleep campaign. In that time, the early stillbirth rate did not budge and now a parent is ten times more likely to lose a baby through stillbirth than to SIDS.

Stillbirths are classified as either early (occurring between weeks 20 and 27 of pregnancy), late (occurring between weeks 28 and 36), and term (after week 27 of pregnancy). Late and term stillbirths have become less common and the numbers are dropping dramatically around the world as less civilized countries adopt safer practices. But surprisingly, even with the advances in medical technology, the rate of early stillbirths has remained steady over the years.

Most stillbirths are preventable

A common misconception is that stillbirths are due to birth defects so the baby could not survive anyway. According to the UK medical journal The Lancet, which has begun a new series on preventing stillbirths, nearly 30% of people believe that a stillborn baby “just isn’t meant to be” because of a genetic condition but, the journal explains, in reality only a very few pregnancy losses are related to this.

The Lancet feature also points out that half of all stillborn babies are still alive when labor begins. Many of the earlier – pre-term – stillbirths are preventable when risk factors are identified.

Factors that elevate the risk of both stillbirth and premature birth include:

  • Race – black mothers are at higher risk
  • Age – teenagers and women over the age of 35 both have an elevated risk
  • Obesity
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Certain medical conditions like diabetes
  • Being pregnant with multiples
  • Prior pregnancy loss

Causes of stillbirth

Leading causes of stillbirth include:

  • Problems with the placenta, including placental abruption, which can reduce the oxygen that the baby receives
  • Birth defects
  • Lack of oxygen related to a baby’s restricted growth
  • Problems with the mother, including high blood pressure or diabetes

A stillbirth is always painful for the family and it can be even more so when it could have been prevented. Medical providers are trained to look for risk factors so that they can be prepared and save the baby.

When they miss the signs, it may amount to medical malpractice. The law recognizes the rights of malpractice victims to seek compensation. Generally, this means proving that the doctor or other health care provider did not meet the proper standard of care and that this breach caused a birth injury or preventable death.

Compensation can include reimbursement of medical and funeral expenses and payment for physical and emotional pain and suffering.