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Causes of stillbirth

Although the majority of pregnancies in Washington result in a live birth, some women may worry that complications will arise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 percent of pregnancies in the United States each year do result in a stillbirth. Although prenatal care has reduced the risk of a stillbirth after 28 weeks, the rate of those that occur between 20 and 27 weeks of pregnancy has remained the same.

The American Pregnancy Association notes that in approximately one-third of cases involving stillbirth, the cause is never determined. There are many known causes, though, and some of these may not result in stillbirth if they are detected and treated in time. 

When a mother develops a bacterial infection between 24 and 27 weeks, the fetus is at risk of death. Unfortunately, the symptoms of this type of infection may not be noticeable. Many are not detected until too late.

Preeclampsia or placental abruption can double the risk that a woman will have a stillbirth. However, both of these conditions are typically treatable. Birth defects from chromosomal disorders, genetic conditions or environmental situations cause more than 20 percent of stillbirths. Insufficient nutrients, slow growth and lack of oxygen are also common causes. Less frequently, mothers lose their babies because of trauma, accidents involving the umbilical cord, postdate pregnancies, maternal diabetes and high blood pressure. 

When it is not apparent why the stillbirth occurred, some women request that the hospital perform an autopsy. This often reveals a cause and may provide guidance for mother and doctor so the risk of a second stillbirth is much lower.