Stillbirth Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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A baby is classed as stillborn if it is born dead after the gestation period of 28 weeks, approximately 6 months, or after the second trimester. A trimester is a third of the pregnancy, or 3 months gestation.


There are several causes of stillbirth:

  • Congenital abnormalities

  • Prolonged and difficult labour

  • Maternal illnesses such as untreated syphilis, high blood pressure (toxaemia) and protein in the urine.

  • An otherwise healthy foetus may spontaneously abort when the mother has had a bad accident, but it is not uncommon for a foetus to survive after its mother has been killed.

  • Spontaneous abortion is when no cause is found except this 'just happens'.

  • Shock; pregnant women should be shielded as much as possible from shock, for example bad family news.

  • Placenta Previa is when the placenta (umbilical cord) covers the neck of the womb, and is crushed during delivery of the baby's head. Undetected beforehand, this is disastrous for both mother and baby. Without an emergency Caesarean section, the baby would drown and the mother haemorrhage.


Regular pre-natal care is essential for every pregnant woman, even women who have had previous normal pregnancies, as each pregnancy is different.

  • Blood tests are essential to make sure the mother is not anaemic and so iron pills can be prescribed if she is.

  • The mother should try not to gain more than two stones (28 pounds). Too much weight gain can cause high blood-pressure.

  • Urine needs to be checked regularly for any abnormalities. Early detection of protein in the water is vital.

  • Blood Pressure should be monitored very closely for any rise above the mothers' normal blood pressure.

How you Can Help

Nobody goes through a traumatic event like a stillbirth unscathed. Every person grieves in different ways and the parents must be allowed to. Sometimes just offering a shoulder to cry on may be all that is needed, others may need professional help. The couple should be encouraged to talk about their baby and their experience and their loss. Women find it easier to talk to other women but their partner should not be excluded; the loss is felt by him just as much. People are naturally going to sympathise with and comfort the mother; often the father is neglected because he does not appear to be suffering. Sympathy is very important, so is being a good listener when they begin to open up.

This is a very difficult issue for anyone to cope with and it is best to avoid statements such as 'you can always have more children'.

SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) is an organisation who can offer help.

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