15 Most Common Stillbirth Triggers

Those initial stages of pregnancy have passed and Mom and Dad are waiting to welcome the baby into the world, cradle the little bundle of joy in their arms. That baby bump’s getting larger by the day and everyone’s eagerly waiting in anticipation for the birth date. But when it comes, it’s not that joyous occasion you’ve all been expecting. That feeling of relief when your baby comes out is met by utter horror when you realise that your baby’s not responding, that your baby’s been born dead. It’s fair to say that there’s no worst feeling – those who have experienced stillbirth or know someone who has will be able to appreciate just how traumatic it all is.

People often lump miscarriage and stillbirth together. Yes, they’re both awful to have to go through, but there is a difference between the two. A miscarriage is characterized by the death of the fetus before 24 weeks into the pregnancy. Stillbirth on the other hand, is when the fetus dies or the baby is born dead, which takes place after the 24 week period. We don’t like to say one event is worse than the other, but stillbirth is truly horrific as it’s late fetal loss – in most instances you’ll know just around the time you’re expecting. Unfortunately it’s quite common too; stillbirth occurs in one in every 160 pregnancies – approximately 24,000 stillbirths per year in the States. But what triggers stillbirth? Are there certain things, lifestyle choices, that you should be wary of or steer clear from? We’re going to go through and discuss the 15 most common stillbirth triggers.

15 Castor Oil Induces Early Labor

It’s fair to say that not a lot of people would expect that the use of castor oil would be correlated to stillbirth in any way.

Castor oil can be purchased over the counter and can be used for all sorts of things. It’s used in food additives, flavorings, candy, used as a laxative, as a precursor to industrial chemicals and as a lubricant. But the majority of people who buy castor oil from health food stores, do so for its role in skin nourishment, or apply it to hair to prevent or slow hair loss and split ends. It’s therefore a very common product – many people use it as an everyday product.

What’s castor oil’s role in stillbirth? Many scientists think it has no role, that it has no effects on pregnancy whatsoever. But others swear by the fact that it induces early labor. If it can induce labor, it could possibly harm your baby and cause stillbirth if your baby’s not ready to come out.

14 Ambient Air Pollution

This essentially refers to our exposure to airborne chemicals – chemicals that sully our air quality and atmospheric environment. Industries, households and vehicles all contribute to this form of air pollution, where the fine particulate matter gets expelled into the air and can contribute to us suffering from a range of different illnesses and diseases. Of course, this all depends on where you live; if you spend your time in a major city, in a highly-polluted area, you’re of course more susceptible to suffering from illnesses as a result of ambient air pollution.

Air pollution’s been known to contribute to lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a number of cardiovascular diseases. But it’s effects on pregnancy has also been researched, with many scientists concurring, saying that it might cause stillbirth; more specifically, if you’re exposed to an increased level of ambient air pollution right before your expected due date, the pollution could be a trigger for stillbirth.

13 Emotional Or Physical Trauma 

People often brush it off; when pregnant and people tell you to relax and take things easy, they’re doing it for a reason. Part of the reason is so you don’t have any physical trauma – your body’s different now that you’re carrying a developing baby and will constantly be changing as you progress through your pregnancy; normal, everyday tasks may therefore be more difficult. But stress – emotional trauma – could also cause a whole host of problems, including stillbirth. Stress is a mental thing, but it can have physical manifestations – but a lot of people still pooh-pooh it, thinking it won’t cause any problems during pregnancy. In fact, it’s thought that it’s one of the major causes of stillbirth. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health involving 2000 women, revealed that 83% of those who had experienced stillbirth had gone through some form of emotional trauma during the period leading up to the birth date.

12 STI's And Other Infections

Infections are one of the most common causes of stillbirth. It’s thought that approximately one in ten stillbirths are caused because of infections – vaginal or womb infections. These are most often bacterial infections; group B streptococcus, escherichia coli (E.coli), klebsiella, enterococcus, haemophilus influenza, chlamydia, and mycoplasma or ureaplasma are the most common bacterial types than can adversely affect pregnancy. STIs are also a common cause of stillbirth, although these can be easily prevented or eradicated.

Most of these infections arise in the vagina where they multiply, and then travel to the uterus, where it can multiply further and cause real problems. Why do infections cause stillbirth? It’s still a grey area. Bacterial infections can cause stillbirth due to any number of reasons; the infections could interact and affect various essential physiological mechanisms, but they can also spread to the fetus and cause fetal infection – the main cause of stillbirth due to infections.

11 Pre-existing Diabetes

Mothers who have pre-existing diabetes whilst pregnant have an increased risk of going through stillbirth. In fact, you’re four times more likely to suffer a stillbirth if you have diabetes, and had the condition before falling pregnant, than someone who doesn’t carry the disease. You’re also more likely to suffer from a miscarriage, or have complications during your pregnancy. The Journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes conducted the research, and found fetal and infant death increased in mothers who fall pregnant and have the insulin deficiency.

It all has something to do with folic acid. Pregnant women with diabetes take folic acid supplements – or should do – to reduce the likelihood of certain fetal complications from occurring, but the research has revealed that they should begin taking folic acid a few months before attempting to conceive. The correlation also has something to do with hemoglobin levels, although all of this research is still in its infancy.

10 Liver Disorder

Having a liver disorder such as obstetric cholestasis or intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy can increase the likelihood of stillbirth. These disorders are commonly characterized by itching, which could be mild to severe in nature. A lot of itching during pregnancy isn’t anything to worry about; It’s most often just because of changing hormone levels which could affect the skin, making it more sensitive, but it could also indicate a liver problem, so it’s essential to get checked out.

These liver disorders arise because of the bile acids which don’t flow properly. These acids usually flow from the liver to the gut, but if something goes wrong, this flow’s obstructed so the acids just continue to build up in the body. These liver disorders often run in families, and the risk of stillbirth is increased when bile acid levels continue to build until they’re greater than 40µmol/L. Unfortunately there’s no cure, but medication can be used as a means of controlling the accumulation of bile salts to give you relief and help protect your baby.

9 Genetic Physical Defect

Again, it’s not totally clear as to why this is the case; why a fetus having a genetic physical defect correlates to stillbirth. The majority of stillbirths are unexplained, but chromosomal and physical defects of the fetus could increase the likelihood of stillbirth.

On occasions, researchers have been able to examine babies that are stillborn. They’ve been able to analyse the baby’s genetic material, and in many instances they’ve found abnormalities – abnormalities that they’ve gone on to link to a possible cause of stillbirth.

Research conducted by the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network discovered that 8.3% of the study group had either an extra chromosome, a missing chromosome, or some other form of major deletion or alteration in the genetic material.

In terms of physical defects, if one of the developing baby’s major organs, such as the heart, brain, lungs, fails to function or has abnormalities, this could be a trigger for stillbirth.

8 Issues With The Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord is essentially your developing baby’s lifeline, connecting the fetus in the womb to the mom. It provides all kinds of things, including nutrient-rich blood and oxygen, from the placenta down the umbilical vein, to the fetus. It also gives the fetus a way of expelling some of the stuff it doesn’t need; deoxygenated, nutrient-depleted blood goes from the fetus down the umbilical arteries to the placenta. It’s essential, but sometimes it can cause complications. With the fetus wriggling around in the womb, it’s not uncommon for the umbilical cord to become tangled up with the fetus. If it does, it could restrict the amount of nutrients the fetus is receiving, or mean that the fetus can’t get rid of waste products; think of it like a hose pipe – if it gets twisted, the water won’t flow through. The umbilical cord could also wrap around the fetus’ neck, resulting in strangulation and death, leading to stillbirth.

7 Suffering From High Blood Pressure 

The majority of women who suffer from pre-eclampsia do so in the second half of their pregnancy – 20 weeks onwards. Mild pre-eclampsia affects about 6% of pregnant women, but sometimes it can get serious, leading to other problems such as stillbirth.

This disorder is characterized by high blood pressure, often in conjunction with large amounts of protein in the urine. This is mainly due to the fact that blood vessels form abnormally in the placenta – that’s the underlying mechanism in most cases, although there are other contributing factors. All of this could adversely affect the baby’s blood supply which could cause a whole host of problems, including death.

How do you cure pre-eclampsia? The baby will have to be delivered, regardless of whether or not the due date is around the corner. Labor may be induced or you may have to have a caesarean section. This, of course, poses huge risks to the baby; babies could die during birth or in the womb beforehand, in which case they’ll be stillborn.

6 Severe Blood Loss 

This one’s fairly obvious; suffer a hemorrhage of any sort which results in ruptured blood vessels around the placenta and therefore bleeding, there’s a high risk that you’ll lose your baby and that it will be stillborn.

A haemorrhage is characterized by severe blood loss to either the mom or the fetus. If there are complications with the mom, blood loss could result in less nutrients being fed to the fetus, amongst a whole host of other issues. But haemorrhage could directly affect the fetus too.

Hemorrhage usually happens as a result of some kind of trauma – physical trauma to the mom. If the mom is involved in an accident for example, especially where the stomach’s in the line of fire, it’s likely to cause bleeding, or complications of some kind. That’s part of reason why everyone’s so keen for moms to take it easy when pregnant; sense of balance and coordination is a little off when pregnant, thus increasing the possible risk of having an accident and sustaining a haemorrhage.

5 Placental Abruption

This is one serious condition that pretty much guarantees that your baby will be stillborn. If it takes place before the 20-week period, miscarriage is almost a certainty, and if after, it’s highly likely your baby will be stillborn.

Placental abruption is when the placental lining completely detaches from the uterus whilst the baby’s still in the womb. This is dangerous for a number of reasons. It can cause a large amount of bleeding, severe maternal haemorrhage, and means that the fetus won’t receive essential nutrients and the oxygen it needs to survive and grow.

It’s essentially bleeding that causes placental abruption. Blood accumulates and builds up to the point it’s pushing the uterine wall and placenta apart which causes the placenta to separate.

Placental abruption can actually vary in severity. Complete placental abruption doesn’t bode well for the fetus, but if it’s a partial separation and there’s medical intervention, it may not lead to maternal or fetal mortality.

4 Blood Clots

This again has to do with bleeding.

There have been a few studies conducted in which researchers have been able to look into the reasons for a stillbirth. As you can imagine, not everyone is open to having scientists open up their stillborn baby, but some women agree to an autopsy, in the name of science.

In one study, 500 women who had just had a stillborn baby gave the go ahead for an autopsy to be conducted. Scientists discovered that 24% of the stillbirths were due to blood clots – the most common cause of stillbirth.

As we’ve mentioned, problems with blood – blood clots, constricted blood flow, burst blood vessels etc. – all affects the fetus’ nutrients and oxygen delivery system. Clots will interrupt the normal flow of these essential nutrients from the umbilical cord, which means that the fetus may stop developing and die in the womb, leading to stillbirth.

3 A Woman's Race

Yes, just the fact that you might be of a certain race, originate from a certain region, could increase the chances of your baby being stillborn. Black women are more likely to go through a stillbirth than their white counterparts; this is down to research from Dr. Jay Iams, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University Medical Center.

Black women are more likely to experience stillbirth, but are also more likely to go through early stillbirth – the baby dies in the womb between 20 and 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can really be done about this. Genetic screening may be a possibility in the future, but it’s still a long way off and a lot more research still needs to be done. But Dr. Iams thinks more needs to be done to help African-American women through pregnancy and the problems that they may face. "What's happening is that more African-American women are coming into the hospital in labor at 21, 22 or 23 weeks, and the babies don't have much of a chance to survive. The higher stillbirth rate is the result of a much higher rate of premature birth."

2 Smoking Immediately Before Pregnancy

You should hopefully know that smoking or taking drugs during pregnancy is a big no no. Do drugs, consume alcohol or smoke during pregnancy and any number of things could occur; you’re unlikely to have a smooth and relatively uneventful pregnancy if you take in these substances. On occasions, you may not realise it at the time, but smoking could affect your fetus – it’s development – in ways that may only be apparent when your baby’s born and grows up.

But smoking during pregnancy can also cause miscarriage and stillbirth. However, if you’re a smoker, it might not be enough to just kick the habit when you discover you’re pregnant. Smoking immediately before pregnancy also increases the likelihood of you suffering a stillbirth. So, if you’re trying to conceive, it’s a good idea for you to try and bin the habit for good. This is one preventable risk factor that can be put right; a common stillbirth trigger that really shouldn’t be a trigger in this day and age.

1 Having A Prior Stillborn Or Miscarriages

If you’ve got a history of stillbirth, there’s an increased risk that you’ll have another stillbirth or miscarriage. In fact, the rates are quite high; approximately one in 160 pregnancies result in stillbirth, but if you’ve suffered a stillbirth before, you’re four times more likely to go through the ordeal again.

Again, this type of research is still in its infancy, so it’s unclear why this is the case. A genetic disorder would explain it, as would abnormalities with the womb – the mom’s ability to carry a baby safely for the full term. If this is the case, tests could be carried out and possibly, the appropriate measures could be put in place to reduce the likelihood of stillbirth from taking place again. But it’s not always that simple; not all stillbirths can be prevented, and the risk of a woman having a stillbirth can’t always be reduced – there are many different reasons as to why stillbirth occurs and they’re not always found out.

Sources: CDC.gov, NCBI, MedicalDaily.com, NIH

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