What Causes Stillbirth?
Did your delivery involve serious complications that eventually resulted in the death of your child? Did yournewborn experience oxygen deprivation that led to a stillbirth because the doctor failed to act quickly?
It is heartbreaking when a baby passes away to a stillborn complication and even more so when finding that the newborn's death was caused by medical negligence and could have been prevented. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), stillborn babies make up approximately 1% of all pregnancies (24,000 babies) in the US every year.
While holding those at fault financially accountable for causing the child's death, the financial compensation will never alleviate the pain and grief of the loss. Still, it can bring justice to the family who needs closure.
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our personal injury attorneys handle fetal death and severe injury cases and can help your family too. Call a birth injury attorney at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or use the contact form today to schedule a free consultation to discuss medical negligence.
What Is Stillbirth (Perinatal Mortality)?
Health professionals typically define stillbirth as an infant loss after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Early stillbirth is a fetal death between 20 and 27 weeks of pregnancy, and late stillbirth occurs between 28 and 36 weeks.
Stillbirth is different from a miscarriage, as a miscarriage occurs much earlier during the pregnancy. It also differs from a neonatal death, where the infant only dies after being born. National Institutes of Health (NIH) statistics show that around 14% of stillborn babies occur because of birth defects or genetic conditions.
Stillbirth affects around 1 in 160 births in the USA. Many of these events result from the medical team's negligence, while several factors are out of the obstetrician's control during the pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Most women who deliver stillborn babies have normal pregnancies and births.
What Causes Stillborn Babies?
The exact cause of why stillbirth occurs is unknown in one-third of cases. Still, the other two-thirds could be caused by problems with the placenta or umbilical cord, high blood pressure, infections, birth defects, or risk factors involving lifestyle choices, such as smoking, excessive drinking, and obesity.
Smoking tobacco products as a pregnant mother is known to restrict fetal growth because it restricts the oxygen supply to the baby.
Common Causes of Fetal Issues
Common causes of stillbirth with fetal issues include:
- Fetal distress – Fetal monitoring can determine if the baby is not doing well, such as receiving sufficient oxygen to the placenta. If left unchanged, fetal distress can cause the infant to breathe in amniotic fluid containing meconium (the baby's first bowel movement).
- Fetal growth restriction – The potential risk of a stillborn rises significantly if the fetus is growing too slowly.
- Fetal abnormalities – Failing to diagnose a placental disease could lead to hypertensive disorders, infections, fetal abnormalities, placental problems, or other medical conditions.
- Congenital birth defects – If the fetus has developed structural defects, genetic deviations, or chromosomal abnormalities, the results can be catastrophic and result in a fetus's death. Many fetuses who died during pregnancy had multiple congenital disabilities.
- Umbilical cord event – A minority of stillbirths result from an accident involving the placental umbilical cord that has become twisted, knotted, or detached from the placenta, depriving the fetus of oxygen. Even healthy babies can die because of an umbilical abnormality.
- Fetal asphyxiation – Any traumatic experience, including a vehicle accident, the mother falling down a flight of stairs, or a problematic delivery, could deprive the child of oxygen during pregnancy or labor and lead to the baby's death.
- Negligent prenatal care – The negligence of an obstetrician in scheduling routine checkups could be a factor in stillborn deaths if the expectant mother and fetus receive substandard care. The doctor may fail to detect an abnormality with the umbilical cord or hear the fetus' heartbeat.
Common Causes - Maternal Issues
Common causes of stillbirth with maternal issues include problems with the placenta and others:
- Placental abruption – This condition involves the separation of the uterus and the placenta before the delivery process.Abruption of the placenta can be caused by abdominal trauma, maternal health issues, or the mother's unusual congenital disability.
- Placental disease – Placental dysfunction results from a pathological change, including intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), preeclampsia, and ischemic placental disease.
- Older maternal age – Many older pregnant women will have a healthy pregnancy. However, women 35 years and older have a significantly higher risk of complications that might require a cesarean section or induced labor 39 weeks into the pregnancy.
- Multiple gestations – There are severe complications in pregnancies involving twins, triplets, or more babies, including preterm labor and the separation of the placenta from the womb.
- Overmedicating the mother – Administering too many drugs during pregnancy, labor, or delivery could compromise the fetus' health, resulting in death. Many medicines can reach the baby in utero through the placenta and umbilical cord.
- Extended pregnancies – Many pregnancies taking 42 weeks or longer after conception is at an increased risk of ending with a stillbirth. Some researchers believe the increased risk of stillbirth results from the placenta's inability to support the fetus.
- Delayed cesarean section (C-Section)– Taking too long to decide to perform a cesarean could compromise the child's well-being and deprive the fetus of oxygen, resulting in stillbirth.
- Defective product – Malfunctioning baby monitors, faulty ultrasound equipment, and other products could cause the child's death during pregnancy if the medical team receives the wrong information and does not detect fetal stress or abnormality.
- Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) – Also known as obstetric cholestasis, a liver disorder that includes severe itching.
Common Causes - Fetal Or Maternal Infections
A serious infection that attacks the mother, placenta, or unborn child could result in stillbirth, especially during pregnancy's first and second trimesters. These infections can often go unnoticed by the pregnant person and only be diagnosed once they cause serious complications.
Common infections that are known to compromise a pregnancy include:
- Cytomegalovirus – A herpes virus can cause severe neurological damage to the unborn child and weaken its immune system.
- Bacterial infection – Group B strep bacterial infections, chlamydia, Klebsiella, Enterococcus, Haemophilus influenza, mycoplasma or ureaplasma, and escherichia coli (E.coli)
- Listeriosis – Foodborne-associated bacterial infections (Listeria monocytogenes) could invade the central nervous system (CNS) and compromise the immune system leading to brain infection (encephalitis) or meningitis.
- Fifth Disease – This common, highly contagious ailment affects children and is recognizable by its distinctive rash on the face.
- Syphilis – Congenital syphilis (Treponema palladium) is known to cause severe congenital disabilities and deformities when the fetus is exposed to the condition in utero. Surviving newborns with syphilis can experience developmental delay, jaundice, anemia, enlarged spleen, enlarged liver, fever, rash, or seizures.
- Autoimmune conditions – Lupus and clotting disorders can lead to a stillbirth death.
More research on human development is needed to determine why stillbirths happen and the correct measures to prevent such tragedies.
Who Is Most at Risk?
Every expectant mother has a potential risk of a stillborn baby. However, there are significant risk factors associated with the baby's death that include:
- Women who have experienced a previous stillbirth or had uterine growth restriction, pregnancy-induced hypertension, or pre-term birth
- Pregnant women with placental problems, such as placental abruption, a pregnancy-related form of high blood pressure called preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension, have twice the risk of stillbirth and fetal growth restriction
- Expected mothers with chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, Lupus, blood clotting disorders, kidney disease, or thyroid disease
- Expectantmothers who developed complications, including cholestasis of pregnancy (a liver disease involving bile flow caused by pregnancy hormones)
- Multiple births of twins or more
- Expected women who are 35 years or older, or 15 years and younger, are more likely to have a stillbirth than other pregnant women
- Expectant mothers who drink alcohol and use recreational drugs
- Expectant mothers who are obese – Being overweight significantly increases the potential risk of stillbirth
- Smoking tobacco products while pregnant can increase the expectant mother's risk of stillbirth because it restricts oxygen supplying blood flow to the unborn child
- Ethnicity – expectant African American mothers have double the risk of having a stillborn baby
- First-Time mothers – Women experiencing their first full-term pregnancy have a greater chanceof experiencing a stillborn event
- High blood pressure and other severe medical conditions can compromise the fetus's health, leading to premature death in utero
Most women record their baby’s movements daily. If you notice that your baby’s movements are slowing down or stopping, seek immediate medical attention instead of waiting for a routine prenatal visit.
The healthcare provider can use Doppler ultrasound equipment or fetal heart rate monitoring to confirm whether the baby’s heart has stopped beating.
Obstetricians or emergency room healthcare providers may order blood tests to rule out probable causes, including amniocentesis, which can identify chromosomal issues that might have contributed to the child's premature death in utero.
Reducing the Risk of Stillborn and Birth Defects
After the first two trimesters of pregnancy, the fetus has a better chance of survival outside the womb (with medical care). Women most at risk can follow specific steps to reduce the factors of a stillborn birth.
Women hoping to become pregnant should visit their health care provider and undergo a preconception examination. The doctor can take a comprehensive medical history to identify and treat any medical issues that might increase the potential of birthing a stillborn.
An expectant mother can prevent stillbirth by closely monitoring certain health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, kidney disease, and other conditions.
The doctor will also want to know if there is any medical condition and the current medications the woman is taking. Necessary adjustments will be recommended, such as discontinuing herbal supplements and over-the-counter medicines while pregnant.
Healthcare providers might also recommend taking folic acid as a multivitamin or supplement before becoming pregnant to reduce a fetal neural tube genetic disability risk, including spina bifida. In addition, obese women expected to become pregnant should consider reducing their weight and following healthy weight guidelines.
During Pregnancy (Prenatal Care)
Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking, and never use recreational drugs when pregnant. A healthcare provider can recommend programs to help with addictive behaviors such as the use of drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.
Expectant mothers who believe there is something wrong should seek immediate medical attention, including experiencing vaginal bleeding after the first trimester, which might indicate placental abruption.
In addition, an expectant mother should ask the doctor about "kick counts" when they reach 28 weeks of pregnancy. The doctor will help the mother identify a healthy baby based on the number of kicking sensations she feels every hour.
Mothers at higher risk of stillbirth should be monitored, beginning at 32 weeks, so that the doctor can check the fetus's heart rate to determine their health based on biophysical profiles. Doctors can also do genetic tests to check for your baby's medical and congenital conditions.
What Happened? Was Medical Negligence Involved?
Many families who experience a stillborn birth are confused about why the baby died and search for answers that might be difficult to answer.
The doctor may be unaware of what caused the infant’s death and might only be identified through an autopsy (postmortem surgical procedure performed by a skilled pathologist) or by examining the mother's placenta or blood.
An autopsy of the baby’s body might reveal:
- One or more causes that led to the pregnancy loss
- How the baby was developing during the pregnancyin the womb
- The mother's or child's health problems
Information about how the baby died can help the family decide whether to move forward with future pregnancies and what actions would be necessary to ensure a successful labor and delivery process.
The medical professional may recommend preconception checkups and obtaining a healthier weight before becoming pregnant again.
Grieving the Child's Death
Along with other family members, the parents often spend years grieving the loss of a stillborn child, with the mother, father, and other siblings grieving in their unique ways. As a result, family members will often need help coping with the traumatic loss of a baby and seek out support to deal with the incredible sense of loss.
The mother must be given adequate time to heal physically from her pregnancy loss. She usually faces additional grieving problems as her body presents constant reminders that she was once pregnant, including her breasts producing breast milk and vaginal bleeding that provides a particular discomfort and distress level.
Fetal Death Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Sometimes, stillbirth occurs from a defective product, including a malfunctioning monitor or ultrasound device that provides inadequate information concerning fetal stress. Expert witnesses can help determine why stillbirths happen and explain the exact causes of stillbirth.
Drivers can also be held civilly liable if their actions caused a crash that resulted in the wrongful death of the mother or baby in the womb.
Medical negligence cases are highly complex and require the skills of stillbirth attorneys, who must prove that the healthcare provider could have prevented the child's death had they followed the apparent warning signs.
Hiring an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney for a Stillbirth Case
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC understands the feelings of sadness and anger following the loss of a baby due to a medical professional or healthcare provider's mistake.
Discuss the merits of your personal injury case with an injury lawyer to ensure your family is adequately compensated for your loss.
Our Chicago, IL, birth injury lawyers could help provide you with the information and legal advice you desire regarding a medical malpractice suit if your baby died due to medical negligence.
Contingency “No Win, No Fee” Guarantee
Our legal team accepts personal injury cases, wrongful death lawsuits, and stillborn medical malpractice claims through contingency fee arrangements. Our personal injury attorneys offer every client a "No Win/No-Fee" guarantee, meaning if we cannot secure financial compensation on your behalf, you owe us nothing.
This legal contract postpones the payment of legal services until after we have completed your medical malpractice claim through a negotiated settlement or a jury verdict against medical professionals.
Additionally, all confidential or sensitive information you share with our law office remains private through an attorney-client relationship. We offer all potential clients free consultations.
Contact our experienced medical malpractice attorneys to schedule a no-obligation consultation at no charge to you. Call our law office at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or use the contact form to talk with an attorney today.