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Program Expansion

Fetal Death


Stillbirth in United States is defined as the death of a baby in utero at 20 weeks' gestation or later, in many cases at full term. The definition varies in other countries. In Sweden the defining mark is 28 weeks and in Norway it is 16 weeks. According to national statistics, stillbirths occur in nearly one in 200 pregnancies, or 26,000 cases, in the United States every year. Worldwide, there are 4 million stillbirths each year according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States in 2002, stillbirth occurred at a rate of 3.2 per 1,000 births.4 In 2000, there were 13,497 early fetal deaths (20-27 weeks’ gestation) and 13,506 late fetal deaths (at or later than 28 weeks’ gestation).5

Stillbirth is a term that describes when a baby dies. Stillbirth is not a cause of death. Many institutions report up to two-thirds of stillbirths as unexplained.6

It has been speculated by some researchers that some stillbirths that are at or close to full term may be gestational SIDS. Epidemiologists have found a two-fold risk for SIDS in infants whose mothers delivered a stillborn. Research is underway investigating if late fetal mortality may have shared etiology with SIDS as some of the risk factors for SIDS are also risk factors for stillbirths and other perinatal deaths.7

Stillbirth occurs in mothers of all ages, races and backgrounds and in mothers who have received excellent prenatal medical care. Stillbirth can occur before delivery or as a result of complications during labor and delivery. Some stillbirths are caused by complications during pregnancy.

Some common complications that can lead to stillbirth are:

  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Preterm labor
  • Diabetes
  • Placental abruption
  • Birth defects
  • Intrauterine growth restriction