When a baby dies in the womb, this is either a stillbirth or miscarriage, depending on when the death takes place during the course of a woman's pregnancy. According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, or NICHHD, one out of every 200 pregnancies in the United States results in stillbirth, while around 15 percent of pregnant women experience miscarriage. Stillbirth or miscarriage is a tragic, emotionally-devastating experience for parents who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a child.
Stillbirth and Miscarriage
Stillbirth is the term used when a pregnant woman's baby dies in the womb from natural causes any time after the 20th week of pregnancy, says the NICHHD. Stillbirth is also used to describe the loss of a baby during labor and delivery. According to the NICHHD, in at least 50 percent of stillbirths, no reason for the baby's death is determined. During a miscarriage, which occurs prior to the 20th week of pregnancy, the baby also dies of natural causes. Research indicates that between 1 and 2 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. have multiple miscarriages in which a cause is never identified.
Signs of Miscarriage
According to the MayoClinic.com, most miscarriages take place before the 12th week of pregnancy. During a miscarriage you may experience vaginal bleeding or spotting or other tissue and fluid expelled from the vagina, as well as cramping in the abdomen and lower back. If miscarriage is caused by an infection of the uterus, other symptoms may be present, including fever and chills, body ache and a thick, foul-smelling vaginal discharge. It's common for women to experience bleeding and spotting early in pregnancy, says MayoClinic.com–sometimes even heavy bleeding. However, if you notice these symptoms, your best response is to contact your treating physician.
indicators of Stillbirth
Although stillbirth can occur during the labor and delivery process, most stillbirths occur before the labor ever begins, according to the March of Dimes. If your baby has suddenly stopped moving and kicking, this is a classic sign of stillbirth. A test called an ultrasound is used to determine if the baby is still living. In most cases, labor begins within two weeks of a stillbirth, says the March of Dimes. It's at your discretion if you want to wait for labor to begin naturally or if you wish for it to be induced.
What Happens Next
After a miscarriage, you have different options, one of which is expectation management, says MayoClinic.com, during which you simply allow the miscarriage to progress on its own without medical intervention. However, to expedite the process, medications can be taken by mouth or applied to the vagina to help the body rid itself of pregnancy tissue and placenta. If vaginal bleeding is heavy, MayoClinic.com indicates that a minor surgery called a dilation and curettage, or D and C, may be recommended. During this process, your vagina is dilated and the tissue is gently suctioned away.
According to the March of Dimes, when a stillbirth occurs, most doctors recommend inducing labor if it doesn't begin after two weeks. A doctor may apply a medication to dilate your cervix, after which a hormone called oxytocin is introduced intravenously to cause contractions to begin. The March of Dimes indicates that most pregnant women choose induced labor over waiting for it to begin naturally.
When your baby dies in the womb, the experience can be life-changing regardless when the death occurs. Navigating through the various stages of grief–denial, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance–is common as you mourn the loss of your child, says MayoClinic.com. Give yourself time to heal physically and go through the grieving process, advises the March of Dimes. Seeing an experienced counselor or joining a pregnancy loss support group for can help you through this difficult period.