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Stillbirth Symptoms

While pregnant women hope for a healthy baby, one in every 160 pregnancies results in a stillbirth. Stillbirth symptoms can include vaginal bleeding, reduced fetal kicks and other movements, an undetectable fetal heartbeat and undetectable fetal movements on an ultrasound. A woman may be able to prevent a stillbirth by recognizing its symptoms.


Stillbirth Symptoms



Stillbirths occur when a fetus dies after 20 weeks of gestation and can be attributed to a wide variety of factors.

This includes:

  • Birth defects
  • Infections in the mother
  • Problems with the placenta
  • Poor fetal growth
  • Chronic conditions present in the mother (including high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease, among others)
  • Rh disease
  • Umbilical cord problems
  • Physical trauma in the mother
  • Postdate pregnancy
  • A lack of oxygen during a difficult delivery


Symptom: Vaginal Bleeding

Vaginal bleeding during the second half of the pregnancy may indicate a placental abruption has occurred. A placental abruption happens when the placenta peels away from the wall of the uterus, and it can result in the death of the fetus and jeopardizes the health of the mother. If the abruption is diagnosed early, the baby may saved through a cesarean section.


Symptom: Reduced Kicks

Starting at around 28 weeks of pregnancy, some health-care providers recommend pregnant mothers keep track of the number of fetal kicks they feel. If a woman feels like her fetus is not as active as it normally would be, or if she cannot feel 10 fetal movements in two hours, she should contact her health-care provider. This may indicate a problem with the fetus.


Symptom: Undetectable Heartbeat

Fetal heartbeats are detected through the use of a stethoscope, Doppler or ultrasound. If a health-care provider is unable to detect a heartbeat through any of these three devices, a fetal death may have occurred.


Symptom: Undetectable Movement on Ultrasound

If a woman reports to her health-care provider that her unborn baby is not moving as much as usual, a health care provider will often use an ultrasound to view the baby. A lack of fetal movements and heartbeat on an ultrasound indicates a stillbirth.



In some cases, stillbirths can be prevented through proper prenatal care. Women should visit their health-care providers throughout their pregnancy to monitor their own health as well as that of the fetus. Pregnant women should frequently monitor their baby’s movements after 28 weeks. They should also avoid taking risks that may cause trauma or other harm to their baby, such as playing in certain sports, drinking alcohol or taking drugs or other medications.



Stillbirths are diagnosed through ultrasound. After doctors have confirmed the fetus has no heartbeat, a pregnant woman may wait for labor to begin (usually within two weeks) or may have labor induced. Counseling and support groups are often recommended to women and couples who experience a stillbirth to help them cope with their loss.


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