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Common Causes of a Stillbirth

By Sarah Harding ; Updated June 13, 2017

Stillbirth refers to the delivery of an infant who died in the uterus. The American Pregnancy Association points out that this term is only used for infant deaths that take place after the 20th week of pregnancy. Only one in 200 pregnancies end with stillbirth. In some cases, the death of the baby can occur during full-term labor and delivery. An autopsy of the baby's body can help reveal the cause of death. There are many possible causes.

Placenta Issues

The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the unborn baby from the mother. If anything disrupts the flow, the baby can die. Sometimes there are no signs that this has occurred. Specific placenta problems include the detaching of the placenta from the uterine wall (placental abruption) or high blood pressure (preeclampsia). It is also possible for the placenta to fail to deliver adequate life support to the unborn child for no easily identifiable reason.

Birth Defects

In about 15 to 20 percent of stillbirth cases, the infant has a birth defect, states March of Dimes. Birth defects that can lead to stillbirth include genetic chromosomal disorders or environmental defects. Any form of birth defect can cause the baby's body not to carry out normal life processes. A mother's body will deliver the baby if it dies in the womb.

Poor Fetal Growth

An infant who is too small or growing at an inadequate rate can die from a lack of oxygen. This can occur during birth or before birth. The cause is not usually known, but March of Dimes says that mothers who smoke put their babies at a heightened risk of death before delivery. Continued prenatal care can often identify growth problems. There isn't always something that can be done to improve a baby's growth in these situations. A late-term baby can be delivered via cesarean section in the hope that medical intervention will be successful.


A bacterial infection that occurs between the 24th and 27th week of pregnancy can cause stillbirth, states American Pregnancy. The mother may not even notice an infection until the situation becomes serious. At this point, complications may have already impacted the baby. Examples of such infections include genital and urinary tract infections.

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