Many people think stillbirths are a thing of the past cured by advances in medical care and women’s health. But in the U.S., 1 of every 160 pregnancies ends in stillbirth, defined (in the U.S.) as the intrauterine death of a baby after 20 weeks of gestational age. That is about 0.62 percent of all pregnancies and adds up to about 26,000 stillbirths a year, or 70 every day. And that’s just in the U.S. Think about that: That’s about three stillbirths every hour, so it’s likely that at the very moment you are reading this, someone has just found out the worst possible news.
Risk factors for stillbirths include diabetes, pre-eclampsia, advanced maternal age (particularly 40 and up), and drug use, but stillbirths can strike all incomes and races, healthy women, and those receiving excellent prenatal care. It can even strike at the very end of an otherwise uneventful pregnancy. Causes include placental disorders (as ours was), umbilical cord “accidents,” and birth defects, but in over 50 percent of all stillbirths, the cause is never identified.
What steps can women take to reduce the risks of stillbirths? Be as healthy as possible: Eat a clean diet—plenty of fruits and vegetables, limited processed foods, lots of water—and exercise according to your doctor’s directives. Don’t smoke, drink, or take drugs. If you’ve had a previous stillbirth, find out all you can about the risk factors for your particular situation, and take whatever precautions you can to prevent them.
Most importantly: Starting in the 28th week of pregnancy, do regular kick counts. Unfortunately, there is some disagreement about how exactly to do kick counts. The U.S.-based Count the Kicks campaign looks for 10 kicks in a 2-hour period. The U.K.-based Count the Kicks campaign says that all babies are different and you should just become aware of your baby’s normal patterns and look out for decreases. My advice is to talk to your doctor, get in tune with your body, listen to your gut, and call your doctor the second you feel something is not right. If they won’t listen to you, persist until they do—or find a new doctor. Doctors can be beholden to insurance companies and unfortunately, a lot of times, the mother ends up being the baby’s only true advocate.
The Star Legacy Foundation for Stillbirth Awareness is the only national charity in the U.S. dedicated to stillbirth education and advocacy. These fantastic folks have an outstanding board of directors, run memorial walks and support groups, facilitate research, and have been a tremendous source of information to me as I sort through my diagnosis.
S.O.B.B.S. (Stories of Babies Born Still) runs a campaign to bring Cuddle Cots to U.S. hospitals so that grieving families can have more time to spend with their babies. The S.O.B.B.S. Facebook page offers support to those who have suffered this unique form of pregnancy loss.
The October 15th Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day gives grieving families of children lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, and other causes of infant death a chance to memorialize their loved ones. To commemorate the day—part of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month—candles are lit at 7 p.m. in time zones all over the world, creating a wave of light for our lost children. This is a simple, meaningful act grieving parents can suggest to family and friends who have asked what they can do to help.
Share, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, coordinates support groups and memorial walks all over the country.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.