Sudden Stillness

The Pain of Stillbirth

Pregnancy brings with it a profusion of emotion, including joy, anticipation, anxiety and even fear.  The questions around parenthood and safe delivery are myriad as the couple plans for the arrival of their baby.  Suddenly, seemingly from out of the blue, the reality that there will be no crying in the nursery hits with a thud as the news of their baby's death leaves a couple grappling with questions and emotions too deep to explain.

Stillbirth, the tragic death of an unborn baby after 20 weeks gestation, is less common than it was 30 years ago, but there continues to be an average of one in 200 pregnancies ending in stillbirth in developed countries with the count higher in under-developed countries.  Most of the stillbirths occur before labor, with a small number occurring during the birthing process.  The causes are many and varied and even with the high level of information available today, about 70 percent of stillbirths are still a mystery.  A pregnancy may be moving along normally when it happens, leaving the family in pain and quandary.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Stillbirth?

Today, women with well-controlled diabetes and high blood pressure, two maladies which were known to cause stillbirth, can carry a baby to term and the risk is minimized significantly.  Until the 1960's the Rh factor in the blood presented some serious complications should the mother be Rh negative and the baby Rh positive.  Now, an injection of immune globulin at 28 weeks gestation and again after the birth helps prevent complications and stillbirth.

Careful monitoring of high-risk pregnancies enables prompt response should the baby be in trouble.  The baby's heart rate is monitored closely, especially after 32 weeks, and an early delivery can be performed if necessary to save the baby's life.  Premature babies are at increased risk for problems after birth, but with today's advances in technology and medicine, most premature babies do very well.

What Can A Pregnant Woman Do?

One of the ways of monitoring the baby's status in a high-risk pregnancy is for the mother to do a "kick count", numbering off 10 movements in a set period.  Between the mother's monitoring at home, which helps to keep her mind at easy knowing her baby is moving, and the monitoring done by the medical professional, any problems can be addressed quickly. Ultra-sound and fetal heart monitoring help the doctors in assessing the situation and performing whatever tests or actions are necessary.

There are some things a woman can do before her pregnancy to help prevent stillbirth or miscarriage.  It's well known that smoking, drinking and drugs are a recipe for trouble, endangering the baby and affecting the mother's health.  Cessation of these habits along with ensuring a healthy weight can go a long way to providing a better environment for pregnancy.  By taking good care of her body, the mother has a measure of positive control over the pregnancy and while nobody has all of the answers, her actions may help to keep her baby safe.

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