Is Stillborn and Stillbirth the Same?

Yes, “stillborn” and “stillbirth” refer to the same phenomenon. Both terms are used to describe the tragic event of a baby being born without signs of life after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A stillborn baby is one who has died in the womb before or during delivery. This heartbreaking occurrence can result from various factors, including complications during pregnancy, congenital abnormalities, or problems during labor and delivery. The terms “stillborn” and “stillbirth” are often used interchangeably in medical and layman’s language to describe the loss of a baby before birth.

Stillbirth vs. Miscarriage

Aspect Stillbirth Miscarriage
Definition Loss of a baby after 20 weeks of gestation or during delivery, with no signs of life. Loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks of gestation.
Timing Typically occurs in the later stages of pregnancy, often in the third trimester. Usually occurs in the first trimester, although it can happen in the early part of the second trimester.
Causes Various factors, including complications with the placenta, umbilical cord issues, infections, and certain medical conditions. Often due to chromosomal abnormalities, but can also result from maternal health issues, infections, or uterine abnormalities.
Emotional Impact Profound grief due to the loss of a fully developed baby and anticipation of childbirth. Emotional impact can still be significant, but the physical and emotional connection may be less developed compared to later stages of pregnancy.
Medical Attention Often requires a formal delivery process, and investigations may be conducted to determine the cause. May involve medical evaluation and monitoring, but the natural process of passing tissue may occur.
Stillbirth vs Stillborn
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What Week Is Stillbirth Most Common?

Stillbirth is most common in the later stages of pregnancy, particularly between 37 and 42 weeks of gestation. The risk increases as the pregnancy progresses, with the majority of stillbirths occurring during the third trimester. Causes can include complications with the placenta, issues with the umbilical cord, and certain medical conditions. However, stillbirth can occur at any point after 20 weeks of gestation. Regular prenatal care, monitoring, and prompt medical attention for any concerns are crucial in reducing the risk of stillbirth and ensuring the health of both the mother and the baby.

Stillbirth vs Stillborn
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Can a Stillborn Baby Survive?

A stillborn baby, born without signs of life after 20 weeks of gestation, cannot survive outside the womb. The term indicates fetal demise before, during, or shortly after delivery, with causes ranging from placental complications to medical conditions. While advancements in neonatal care can aid premature babies, a stillborn baby has already experienced irreversible loss.

Causes Stillborn Babies

  • Complications with the placenta
  • Issues with the umbilical cord
  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Infections
  • Medical conditions in the mother (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure)
  • Lifestyle factors (smoking, substance abuse)
  • Unknown causes in some cases
  • Regular prenatal care and monitoring
  • Addressing risk factors to reduce the likelihood of stillbirth
Stillbirth vs Stillborn
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What Puts You at Risk For Stillbirth?

  • Advanced Maternal Age: Women who become pregnant at an older age, typically over 35, may have a higher risk.
  • Previous Stillbirths: A history of a previous stillbirth may increase the risk in subsequent pregnancies.
  • Multiple Pregnancies: Twins, triplets, or higher-order multiples are associated with a higher risk of stillbirth.
  • Medical Conditions: Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain autoimmune disorders can increase the risk.
  • Placental Problems: Complications with the placenta, such as placental abruption or placenta previa, can contribute to stillbirth.
  • Fetal Growth Restriction: When the baby is not growing adequately in the womb, it may be at an increased risk of stillbirth.
  • Uterine or Cervical Problems: Structural issues with the uterus or cervix may pose a risk.
  • Infections: Certain infections during pregnancy can increase the risk of stillbirth.
  • Smoking, Substance Abuse, and Obesity: Unhealthy lifestyle factors can elevate the risk.
  • Ethnicity: Stillbirth rates can vary among different ethnic groups.

How Is a Stillbirth Diagnosed?

A stillbirth is typically diagnosed through a combination of clinical assessments and diagnostic tests. The process may involve:

Physical Examination: The healthcare provider will conduct a physical examination to assess the mother’s overall health and the condition of the baby.

Fetal Heartbeat Monitoring: Monitoring the baby’s heartbeat using a Doppler device or ultrasound is a common practice. If no heartbeat is detected, further investigation is warranted.

Ultrasound: An ultrasound is a key diagnostic tool to visualize the baby, assess fetal movement, and evaluate the placenta and amniotic fluid.

Laboratory Tests: Blood tests may be conducted to check for infections or other medical conditions that could contribute to the stillbirth.

Fetal Movement Counting: Monitoring fetal movement patterns can provide additional information.

If any abnormalities or concerns are identified during these assessments, additional tests may be recommended, such as:

  • Non-Stress Test (NST): Measures the baby’s heart rate in response to its movements.
  • Biophysical Profile (BPP): A comprehensive assessment that includes fetal heart rate monitoring, fetal movement, and amniotic fluid volume.
  • MRI or CT Scan: In some cases, these imaging tests may be used for further evaluation.
Stillbirth vs Stillborn
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Treatment for Mothers of Stillborn Babies?

The emotional and psychological well-being of mothers who have experienced a stillbirth is of utmost importance. While there is no specific medical treatment to “cure” the emotional pain, supportive care and interventions are crucial. Some aspects of care include:

  1. Emotional Support:
    • Counseling and therapy to help process grief and navigate complex emotions.
    • Support groups where mothers can connect with others who have experienced similar losses.
    • Individual counseling to address specific needs and coping strategies.
  2. Medical Follow-Up:
    • Regular medical check-ups to monitor physical recovery.
    • Addressing any potential complications arising from the stillbirth.
  3. Family and Social Support:
    • Encouraging open communication with family and friends.
    • Involving partners and family members in the grieving process.
  4. Memorialization and Rituals:
    • Creating memorials or rituals to honor and remember the baby.
    • Participating in ceremonies or events that provide a sense of closure.
  5. Future Pregnancy Planning:
    • Discussing future pregnancy plans and addressing any concerns or fears.
    • Consultation with a healthcare provider to assess potential risks and provide guidance for subsequent pregnancies.

What Happens to Your Body After a Stillbirth?

Physical Recovery:

Postpartum Changes: The body undergoes postpartum changes, including a decrease in hormone levels, uterine contraction to expel the placenta, and a reduction in breast milk production.

Bleeding: Vaginal bleeding, known as lochia, is normal after delivery. It may continue for several weeks, gradually changing in color and consistency.

Emotional Impact:

Grief and Mourning: A stillbirth is a profound loss, and the emotional toll can be significant. Grieving is a personal process, and the intensity and duration vary for each individual.

Counseling and Support: Emotional support through counseling, therapy, or support groups is essential for navigating the complex emotions associated with stillbirth.

Follow-Up Care:

Medical Check-Ups: Regular medical check-ups are important to monitor physical recovery and address any potential complications.

Future Pregnancy Planning: If planning future pregnancies, discuss with your healthcare provider to address any concerns, consider preconception counseling, and develop a plan for subsequent pregnancies.

Breast Changes:

Engorgement: The breasts may become engorged with milk, leading to discomfort. Your healthcare provider can provide guidance on managing this, which may include wearing a supportive bra and using cold compresses.

Returning to Normal Activities:

Gradual Resumption: Returning to normal activities may be a gradual process, and it’s essential to listen to your body and prioritize self-care.


Creating Memories: Some individuals find solace in creating memories or keepsakes to honor and remember the baby.

How Can I Avoid a Stillborn?

While not all stillbirths can be prevented, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk and promote a healthy pregnancy:

Regular Prenatal Care:

Attend all scheduled prenatal appointments to monitor the baby’s growth and detect any potential issues early.

Healthy Lifestyle:

Adopt a healthy lifestyle by maintaining a balanced diet, staying physically active (with your healthcare provider’s approval), and avoiding harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.

Manage Underlying Conditions:

Control chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure with the guidance of your healthcare provider.

Monitor Fetal Movement:

Be aware of your baby’s movements, and promptly report any significant changes to your healthcare provider.

Avoid Certain Medications:

Consult your healthcare provider before taking any medications during pregnancy to ensure they are safe.

Manage Stress:

Practice stress-reducing techniques such as relaxation exercises, meditation, or prenatal yoga.

Avoid Infections:

Take precautions to avoid infections, and seek prompt treatment if you suspect you have an infection during pregnancy.

Avoid Late-Term Pregnancy Loss Risks:

Discuss potential risks and interventions with your healthcare provider if you are carrying multiples or have a history of late-term pregnancy loss.

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In conclusion, “stillborn” and “stillbirth” are synonymous terms referring to the heartbreaking event of a baby born without signs of life after 20 weeks of gestation. Both terms are used interchangeably to describe this profound loss, emphasizing the finality of fetal demise. While medical advancements and prenatal care have improved outcomes for many pregnancies, a stillborn baby cannot survive outside the womb. The use of these terms acknowledges the gravity of the situation and underscores the importance of supporting individuals and families who have experienced the devastating loss of a baby before, during, or shortly after delivery.

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