Stillbirths Still a Problem in High-Income Countries Like the U.S.

To many women, pregnancy and childbirth is a magical time that ends with the arrival of a new family member. However, for many women pregnancy and labor are anything but easy. Some women suffer difficult pregnancies and are placed on high risk status, or put on bed rest. Other women undergo difficult and complicated labor and deliveries, sometimes resulting in birth injuries to the baby. However, a recent article in The New York Times highlighted another potential complication of the birthing process – stillbirths.

Despite America’s status as a wealthy nation that offers high quality prenatal care, stillbirths continue to be a problem for many pregnant women. A group of papers put together by The Lancet, a British medical journal, stated that about 1 in 300 babies continue to be stillborn in high-income countries. And while about 98 percent of the global stillbirths occur in low- or middle-income countries, the report calls into question what doctors and families can be doing to decrease the incidences of stillbirths in the U.S.
Some of the risk factors for stilbirths include maternal obesity, maternal age over 35, smoking during pregnancy, and multiple pregnancies, e.g., twins or triplets. Reports suggest that obesity is the cause of 18 percent of stillbirths in higher-income nations, a statistic that is not surprising considering other medical reports citing the increase in adult obesity in the U.S. However, while the negative effect of obesity on one’s heart and general health are well-known, perhaps the effect of obesity on one’s fetus is not as well-known. Educating American women about the link between maternal obesity and stillbirth could at least make more women aware about this problem and perhaps work towards lowering the cases of maternal obesity, just as educating women about the risks of smoking during pregnancy has lowered the rate of smoking-related stillbirths.

The increased risk for pregnancy complications that affect women over 35 years-old are well-known. Not only are women over 35 at an increased risk for stillbirths, but also for gestational diabetes, premature birth, or birth defects in the child. Also, the trend for in vitro fertilization and the tendency to implant multiple embryos has increased the number of multiple pregnancies, e.g., twins, triplets, etc., and with it has increased the risk for stillbirths among these women. Given that more and more women are waiting longer to have children and that in vitro fertilization is becoming more common could explain why there continue to be a high number of stillbirths in high-income countries like the U.S.

Given this information, what measures can mothers and doctors take to prevent stillbirths from occurring? Regular prenatal treatments and quality prenatal care are key in reducing the risk for stillbirths. Oftentimes doctors must weigh the risk of a stillbirth with other potential birth complications that carry their own set of problems, i.e., premature birth. Therefore, having a doctor who is familiar with you and your baby is invaluable when assessing the risks. A doctor who knows the fetus’s rhythms and routines is better prepared to identify a deviation from the norm and take measures to prevent a stillbirth.

Also, decreasing the likelihood of getting an infection during pregnancy, or timely treatment of infection could help reduce the risk of a stillbirth child. Infection during pregnancy can affect the fetus and retard its growth. Therefore, recognizing and treating the infection as quickly as possible is key to successful management. Again, the more frequent and regular a woman’s prenatal care, the more likely complications like infection will be properly managed and poor outcomes avoided. Therefore, the best way to prevent stillbirths continues to be access to high-quality medical care.

However, regular prental care does not insure that stillbirths will be completely eliminated. While some stillbirths cannot be prevented, others could have been avoided if not for medical negligence.

Doctors and nurses need to carefully monitor and diagnose any complication during pregnancy. If medical providers fail to timely identify potential risks for stillbirth, then there is the risk that by the time something is done it will be too late to save the baby. Therefore, careful monitoring and documentation of any problems is key to avoiding stillbirths caused by medical negligence.


Jane Brody. In Decline, Stillbirths Continue to Devastate. The New York Times. August 16, 2011.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois birth injury lawsuits for over 35 years, serving those areas in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Darien, Elmhurst, West Chicago, and Hoffman Estates.
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