Stillbirth is the death of a baby before or during a birth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. In one year, between five and six babies in every 1,000 are stillborn.
The most common causes of stillbirth are:
- Congenital defects
- Placenta coming away from the wall of the uterus
- High blood pressure
- Reduced oxygen levels to the baby (either while in the uterus or during birth)
Sometimes, the cause of death is clear, and good information about the underlying condition is available. However, often there is no satisfactory explanation. Death can occur suddenly in otherwise apparently normal mature infants and, at present, about half of stillbirths remain unexplained.
Even if the cause of death is identified (such as lack of oxygen), it may not be possible to explain what started the chain of events that led to death.
Many obstetricians will routinely induce all mothers with even moderately raised blood pressure and those who are significantly past their due date in an attempt to reduce the number of stillbirths, but often there is no action that can be taken to avoid this type of tragedy. Many parents have to live with not ever knowing fully what happened.
Parents need to know that everything that might have been done to avoid the baby’s death was done, and support and explanation to the parents in such circumstances is a basic requirement of good practice.