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Stillbirth is one of the most devastating experiences anyone can go through. We are here to support you through this very difficult time. Stillbirth is an unforeseen event where a baby is not alive when it is born after 24 weeks of pregnancy. It occurs in about one in every 200 to 300 pregnancies. Most often, a stillbirth is detected while the baby is in the mother’s womb. However, it is sometimes not detected until labour is underway.
How is fetal death diagnosed?
Fetal death is usually confirmed by an ultrasound scan. Some women may have felt reduced fetal movements in the preceding days. Sometimes, the diagnosis may come as a surprise as there is usually no pain or vaginal bleeding. Passive movements (due to the baby turning around in the womb) may still be felt after a diagnosis is made.
What should I do now?
If there is no medical reason for the baby to be born immediately, you and your partner can take time to grief and decide when you want to deliver your baby. You may be given the option of waiting for labour to start naturally or being induced. Most women will go into labour within two weeks after fetal death is diagnosed.
However, you may want to consider the following when making your decision:
When you are ready, and have decided for induction of labour, you can discuss the methods to induce labour with your doctor. Tablets will usually be inserted into the vagina to initiate the process. If these tablets do not bring on an established labour, you may be given hormone medication through a drip in your arm.
What are the causes of stillbirth?
There is usually a lot of guilt and self-doubt after a stillbirth is diagnosed. In most instances, it could not have been prevented and it is not a result of something you did or did not do during the pregnancy. Additionally, in about 50% of cases, the cause of death of the baby cannot be established even after extensive investigation, which can be particularly hard for grieving parents who want to understand what happened to their baby.
However, there are a number of possible causes of stillbirth as below:
You will be offered some blood tests and evaluation of the fetus (post-mortem) and placenta to look for the above causes. There are many ways a post-mortem of the fetus can be carried out, either an extensive, limited or an external evaluation can be done. In some cases, karyotyping (study of the baby’s chromosomes) and genetic testing may also be offered.
During a post-mortem, the baby is treated respectfully at all times, incisions are made sensitively, and kept as small as possible at the chest and at the back of the head. The baby’s face, arms, legs, hands and feet are usually unaffected. After examination, the organs will be carefully returned to the baby’s body and incisions stitched back, just as if it was an operation.
Getting these tests done may provide useful information and can help with planning for your next pregnancy, even if the test results are negative. A post-mortem also allows researchers to gather data on causes of stillbirth with the aim of finding ways to prevent future fetal deaths.
What happens after delivery of the fetus?
Will I get to see my baby?
Yes, we encourage women and their families to see, hold and touch their baby, although this may be a difficult moment. You will also be offered to create memories (photos) or memorabilia for your baby if you wish to, as this has helped families cope with their loss. Will I get to bury or cremate my baby if I choose to have a post-mortem? A post-mortem does not prevent a family from spending time with their baby or opting to have a funeral, burial or cremation. A full post-mortem will usually take a few months and the team will then inform the parents about the collection of baby after. If your religion requires the burial to be conducted very soon after the delivery of the fetus, speak to your doctor to make arrangements.
Who else can I get support from after delivery?
While you are in the hospital, you will be linked up with the medical social worker. Moving on after a stillbirth is a painful process and recovery is often a path with many steps. Your partner, the baby’s siblings and the extended family members may need support too. Speak to your doctor if you are feeling depressed as postpartum depression is common.
Will stillbirth happen again?There is a 3% chance of it happening again in the next pregnancy. If a cause is found, your doctor will advise you about what can be done to prevent recurrence of a stillbirth. In most cases where no cause is found, the chances of you getting a healthy baby in the next pregnancy is very high.
There are few things you can do to reduce your risk of getting a stillbirth: