Common causes of stillbirth

Updated at: Feb 01, 2013
Common causes of stillbirth

Childbirth (Delivery) - Stillbirth is a devastating pregnancy loss and occurs due to natural causes when fetus dies in the uterus either during labour or delivery. Let's try and understand the causes of stillbirth.

Sharanya Manola
PregnancyWritten by: Sharanya ManolaPublished at: Apr 25, 2011

StillbirthWhen a woman is pregnant the last thing which she’d like to hear is development of any possible risk during the pregnancy. But, avoiding such topics doesn’t help much in eliminating latent fears about the risks of stillbirth. It is unfortunate that not stillbirth is not fully understood or even explained by the doctors. So, as a future mother, you must know a-z of risks during pregnancy. Let’s together try and understand the causes of stillbirth.


What is stillbirth?


Stillbirth is a devastating pregnancy loss and occurs due to natural causes when fetus dies in the uterus either during labour or delivery. It can also occur after 20 weeks of gestation. However, if any such loss occurs before the 20th week, it is considered to be miscarriage. If fetal death is suspected, then ultrasounds can be done by the health care provider to confirm it. This can be followed by determining the cause of the death.


One of the techniques recommended to determine proper movement of the baby is the count-to10 method. Women must record the amount of tome needed by the baby to move approximately 10 times. If it actually takes a little longer than two hours, women must immediately see a doctor.


Common Causes of Stillbirth


Placenta Abruptions


10-20% of stillbirths occur due to placenta abruptions. In placenta abruptions, the placenta separates itself from the uterine wall prior to delivery either completely or partially. This results in severe bleeding and lack of blood flow to the fetus. The fetus can die due to lack of oxygen. Avoid smoking and cocaine use as it increases the risk of placenta abruptions.


Poor foetal development


20% of stillbirths can be attributed to poor foetal development. Usually, improper growth of the fetus can lead to asphyxia. Yet again smoking during pregnancy heightens the risk of poor foetal development. An ultrasound can be done to monitor foetal development and identify risk factors.


Endocrinological factors


Dr Asha Sharma, gynaecologist at Rockland hospital says, “Certain endocrinological factors that lead to stillbirth are Anti-phospholid Syndrome and thrombophilia. In anti-phospholid syndrome the baby is starved of the essential nutrients and oxygen in the womb. Usually, the placenta fails to provide sufficient nutrients due to blood clotting. It has a high possibility of occurring in the second trimester.”




Near about 10-15% of stillbirths occur due to infections. Infections that are potent in causing stillbirth can involve the mother, placenta or foetus. Some of the infections such as urinary tract infections and genital infections show no symptoms. They, therefore, remain undiagnosed and increase the risk of preterm death of the baby. There is a high risk of infection that can lead to stillbirths prior to 28 weeks of gestation. Some other infections are rubella, syphilis, toxoplasmosis and influenza.


Umbilical cord entanglement


Umbilical cord accidents account for 15% of stillborn babies. There is a knot in the umbilical cord or improper placement of umbilical cord in the placenta which can cut off oxygen supply to the baby.


Chronic health conditions


Dr Sharma adds, “Around 10% of stillbirths are related to chronic health conditions of pregnant women. If a pregnant woman has high blood pressure, diabetes, severe anaemia, kidney diseases it can contribute to poor foetal growth and placental abruptions. Even pregnancy induced forms of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia and eclampsia increase the risk when they recur in later pregnancy.”


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