Stillbirth is the death of a fetus after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It often happens before labor begins.
Stillbirth may be caused by:
In many cases, the cause is unknown.
Stillbirth is more common for women aged 35 years and older. Other factors that may increase the chance of stillbirth include:
An ultrasound exam may be done. The doctor will examine the baby and look for a heartbeat.
The cause may be seen with the ultrasound. After birth, other tests may be done to understand the cause.
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The fetus will need to be delivered. A vaginal birth is the safest option for most. Some may need a cesarean section. The doctor will talk about the options.
Labor may be started with medicine. It may be given through the vagina, as pills, or by IV. Treatment may not be needed if there are other living fetuses.
The birth does not have to happen right away. Problems for the mother may occur if the birth is put off for several weeks.
Not all stillbirths can be prevented. Steps that can increase your chance of a healthy pregnancy include:
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Pregnancy Association
Women’s Health Matters
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG practice bulletin No. 102: Management of stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Mar;113(3):748-61. Reaffirmed 2016.
Stillbirth. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115491/Stillbirth . Updated February 20, 2018. Accessed September 25, 2018.
Stillbirth: trying to understand. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at:
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Updated June 8, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2018.
12/30/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115491/Stillbirth : Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network Writing Group. Association between stillbirth and risk factors known at pregnancy confirmation. JAMA. 2011;306(22):2469-2479.
12/30/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115491/Stillbirth : Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network Writing Group. Causes of death among stillbirths. JAMA. 2011;306(22):2459-2468.
8/26/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115491/Stillbirth : Gaskins AJ, Rich-Edwards JW, et al. Maternal prepregnancy folate intake and risk of spontaneous abortion and stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;124(1):23-31.
7/15/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115491/Stillbirth : Saccone G, Berghella V, Sarno L, et al. Celiac disease and obstetric complications: a systematic review and metaanalysis. 2016;214(2):225-234.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 9/25/2018