Stillbirth: Causes and Prevention
Stillbirth is the loss of a baby anytime during the second half of the pregnancy. Anytime a baby passes between 20 to 40+ weeks of pregnancy, it is known as stillbirth. If a baby passes before the 20-week mark in pregnancy, it is called miscarriage. Losing a baby at any point can be devastating for the family. Stillbirth can bring on feelings of confusion, sadness, anger, and despair.
Why Does Stillbirth Happen?
There are many things that can cause stillbirth. Unfortunately, many of the causes are still not known. In approximately 40% of cases of stillbirth, the cause is never discovered. It is more likely that the cause of stillbirth will be discovered if the parents consent to an autopsy of the baby. However, that can be a hard request for grieving parents to deal with and it is completely understandable that many choose not to have it done.
Causes of stillbirth
The most common known cause of stillbirth is congenital abnormalities. These are conditions where the baby’s development has been affected in some way and are usually present from early on in the pregnancy. They could involve problems with things such as the heart, brain, kidneys, spinal cord, or even chromosomes.
Problems with the umbilical cord and/or placenta
The placenta supplies the baby with all of his/her needed oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord. For this reason, it is not surprising that problems associated with the placenta and umbilical cord can lead to stillbirth. These possible problems include things such as placental abruption where the placenta prematurely detaches from the uterine wall before the baby is born.
If a baby is born before 37 weeks, it is called premature birth. A baby born prematurely is more likely to be stillborn. Although, most babies that are born prematurely are able to survive, thanks to advancements in medicine. Risk factors for premature birth include smoking during pregnancy, lack of prenatal care, and the baby being very underweight or overweight.
There are multiple conditions that the mother can have that increase chance of stillbirth. Babies born to mothers with infection, preeclampsia, or diabetes all have an increased risk of being stillborn.
Sadly, there is no guaranteed way to prevent stillbirth. Luckily, there are some precautions that can be taken to help lower the chances of stillbirth. There are steps you can take prior to conception, as well as during pregnancy that will help give your baby the best possible outcome.
Quit smoking prior to conception
If you are a cigarette smoker, you should quit smoking before you are ever even trying to have a baby. Of course, this won’t be possible in all cases. It is still best for you and bub if you quit smoking as soon as possible. Smoking causes many issues that can lead to stillbirth such as preterm labour, placental defects and birth defects.
Don’t drink or do drugs
Drugs and alcohol can also be very harmful to the proper development of your baby. If proper development doesn’t occur, your baby has a greater chance of being stillborn. If at all possible, discontinue use of any drugs or alcohol prior to becoming pregnant. Even if you don’t quit until after you discover you’re pregnant, quitting as soon as possible will help ensure the best possible outcome for your baby since the usage of alcohol and drugs during pregnancy can be extremely harmful for both you and your baby.
Ensure a healthy lifestyle
Ensuring that you are healthy will help to ensure that your little one is also healthy. A well-balanced diet during pregnancy helps to make sure that bub gets all of his/her needed nutrients, lowering the chance of problems with proper development and therefore lowering the risk of stillbirth. On top of a healthy diet, it’s also a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin. Folic acid is specifically important to ensuring proper development and will decrease chances of neural tube defects that can cause stillbirth.
Get Prenatal Care
High-quality care prior to and throughout pregnancy is ideal to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and helps avoid stillbirth. Getting care early in your pregnancy can help to detect any problems as early as possible and get appropriate treatment as needed. Your health care provider will likely give you an ultrasound early in your pregnancy as well as perform other tests to screen for potential risks. To read more on what to expect throughout prenatal care, read here.
Management of Diabetes and Hypertension
If you have diabetes or hypertension, it is crucial that you manage them as best as possible during pregnancy. Both of these conditions can increase the risk of stillbirth. Ideally, you want to have them under control prior to conception. It’s also possible to develop both diabetes and hypertension as a result of pregnancy. If that is the case, it’s still necessary to keep it under control as much as possible in order to help avoid stillbirth and other problems.
Monitoring Your Baby’s Movement
One crucial thing you should do to help identify problems as soon as possible is to monitor your baby’s movements throughout your pregnancy. Specifically, it’s a good idea to do kick counts regularly during your third trimester.
To do this, choose a time of day that your baby is typically active, and every day around that time, count how many times you feel your baby move. Note how long it takes you to count ten movements. This can take anywhere between a few minutes and a couple of hours. The goal is to pay attention to what is normal for your baby. If your baby’s movement patterns change, this is an indication that something may be wrong and you should let your pregnancy health care provider know immediately.
How to handle yourself emotionally after still birth?
At this point in it time, it feels like the world has come to an end for you and life will never go on, but you need to be strong for youself and your family. No one said it’s going to be easy and will be fixed over night but, there are a few things you could do help yourself get out of the emotional and mental pain of stillbirth. Read more on how to handle yourself emotionally after stillbirth, here.