Stillbirth, Neonatal Death, and Late Term Pregnancy Loss

No matter how old a baby is when they die, it is a horrible tragedy. There are some things to look at in terms of what causes these tragedies and what you need to know both for your current pregnancy and for future pregnancies. Many of your answers will come from your medical care team, but it is also fairly common that even with the best care, this was not something that could have been avoided.

You may also be frustrated with a lack of answers as to why this happened. Talking to your team will help you answer questions you have both in the immediate term and in later months, and potentially during new pregnancies.

Pregnancy Loss in the Second Trimester

A sad pregnant woman in the second trimester
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A pregnancy loss between the end of the first trimester and 20 weeks gestation is known as a late miscarriage. The cause can be genetic problems with the baby or a missed miscarriage, when your baby died earlier in the pregnancy and it wasn't discovered until later.

Some other things that can cause a loss in this portion of pregnancy include incompetent cervix (where the cervix doesn't hold closed), infections (of the uterus, amniotic sac, etc.) and other complications of pregnancy.


Ultrasound equipment
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Stillbirth is when a baby dies sometime after 20 weeks gestation. The stillbirth rate is about 1 in 160 pregnancies. The majority of stillbirths happen due to complications of pregnancy, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and other problems. These complications are likely to have been identified in prenatal care.

If a mother is not receiving prenatal care, she has a much greater risk of her baby dying than if she is being managed by a physician. That being said, there are mothers who receive excellent care who still suffer from stillbirth. Talk to your practitioner about fetal kick counts and other ways to help you monitor your baby's health.

Neonatal and Infant Death

Baby in the NICU
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Neonatal death is the death of an infant within the first 28 days of life. Deaths after this period are considered infant deaths. The vast majority of neonatal deaths are due to prematurity.

A baby born at 24 to 25 weeks gestation only has a 50% survival rate. In addition to prematurity, there are also neonatal deaths due to complications of disease as well as genetic problems, like trisomy 13 or anencephaly.

There are also deaths due to other factors which may include health conditions not related to prematurity or genetics. Or you may experience a loss due to Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). And a small number of infants die in accidents as well. 

Rainbow Babies

Rainbow baby
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A rainbow baby is the term used for a baby born after a previous pregnancy or infant loss, regardless of the stage of loss. This is to signify that the newest baby has brought sunshine after the rain. It is not a replacement for the lost baby, but a much wanted addition. 

A rainbow pregnancy and baby may leave you with many questions, even if you felt confident prior to this pregnancy. You may wonder what you can do to help avoid another loss or worry about emotions that may come up in a new pregnancy. This is completely normal. 

In addition to your regular prenatal care, you may want to consider seeing a counselor who has experience with grieving parents. There may also be support groups in your area who can assist you. To find one, ask your doctor or midwife, or call your local hospital for information. There are also online options for supportive communities as well. Each group may have a different style or feel, so don't think that you've seen one, you've seen them all. 

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