I have two sisters, but I almost had three. When I was about 8 years old, the baby my mother was carrying mysteriously died when she was about five months along. I remember how emotionally devastating this was for my mom. No matter how many children you have, the acute pain parents feel after a stillbirth is undeniable. And strangely, the cause of many stillbirths often remains a mystery.
Here's what we do know: One in 160 pregnancies will end in a stillbirth, according to the March of Dimes. That's 25,000 pregnancies a year. Stillbirth happens 10 times more frequently than SIDS. Doctors may not know the cause of every stillbirth, but there are a few common causes. And we're learning more about how to prevent stillbirth.
Possible causes of stillbirth:
1. Mechanical accidents, like strangling from umbilical cord wrapped around neck.
2. Problems with the placenta that cut off blood supply to the baby.
3. Infections like syphilis, herpes, chicken pox. (These are rare because women are typically screened for these infections.)
4. Birth defects, which account for 15 to 20 percent of stillbirths.
5. Poor growth, which accounts for about 40 percent of stillbirths.
6. Chronic health problems in the mother, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. These health problems occur in 10 percent of cases of stillbirths.
What women can do to help prevent stillbirths:
1. Get those routine prenatal exams and checkups!
2. Do kick counts starting at about 28 weeks, especially if your pregnancy is high-risk. Doctors disagree on how effective kick counts are, though.
3. If you're RH-negative, get an immune globulin injection at 28 weeks and after birth of an RH-positive baby.
4. If you're thinking of getting pregnant, try and get into your best possible physical health first. If you're already pregnant, try to maintain your best possible physical health. It makes a difference.
5. Report any bleeding to your doctor.
These actions can help, but unfortunately nothing can guarantee your baby's safe arrival to full-term. Still, they are all worth considering to improve your chances. In the tragic event that you do have a stillborn baby, you can help other parents out by having an autopsy done; doctors can use that autopsy to learn more about what causes stillbirths and, in turn, help prevent more from happening.
Have you ever had a stillborn baby or know anyone who has? Was your doctor ever able to find out what caused it?
Image via Beau Lark/Corbis