Merck Manual

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Quick Facts



The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2019
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NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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What is a stillbirth?

  • Stillbirth is when you've been pregnant for 20 weeks or more and your baby dies before it's born

  • Stillbirth is the same as a miscarriage, except that a miscarriage occurs before 20 weeks and stillbirth occurs after 20 weeks

What causes a stillbirth?

Not all stillbirths are caused by the same problem. Doctors do tests to figure out the cause of a stillbirth. Often, they don’t find any cause. Sometimes they find a problem with the placenta (the organ that feeds your unborn baby), your baby, or your body.

Problems with the placenta

  • When the placenta pulls away from the uterus too early (placental abruption)

  • Infection in and near the placenta (intra-amniotic infection)

  • Problems that cause less blood to get to the baby (which means less oxygen and nutrients)

  • Bleeding

Problems with your baby

  • Abnormal genes or chromosomes

  • A birth defect

  • An infection

Problems with your body

  • Diabetes that isn’t taken care of

  • High blood pressure that happens during pregnancy (preeclampsia)

  • Use of substances, such as cocaine, alcohol, or tobacco

  • Injuries

  • A blood clotting problem

  • A problem in your thyroid gland

What are the symptoms of a stillbirth?

Often, after your baby dies, you go into labor. During labor, your doctor will see that the baby has died.

Sometimes the baby dies but you don't go into labor. You may have no symptoms for a while. Other times there are obvious symptoms:

  • Not feeling the baby move or kick

  • Bleeding from your vagina

  • Cramps

How can doctors tell if I have a stillbirth?

Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of a stillbirth. The doctor will do tests to check your baby's health, such as an ultrasound (moving pictures of the inside of your uterus).

What do doctors do if I have a stillbirth?

If you've delivered the baby and the placenta, you won't need any treatment.

If the baby or the placenta are still in your body, they need to come out. Your doctor might:

  • Use a medicine that can start labor

  • Remove the baby and the placenta using surgical instruments put into your uterus (womb) through your vagina (birth canal)

If doctors need to do a surgical procedure, they will give you anesthesia (medicine to put you to sleep).

It's normal to feel grief, anger, and guilt after a stillbirth.

  • Consider talking with another person if you feel sad and are grieving the loss of your baby

  • Remind yourself that it’s very unlikely you did something to cause your stillbirth

  • If you’re worried about having another stillbirth, talk to a doctor who can discuss possible tests if needed

  • Remember that many women who have a stillbirth get pregnant again and give birth to healthy babies

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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