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Stillbirths and Medical Malpractice

Tragically, each year in the United States about 25,000 babies, or approximately 68 babies each day, are born still. This is approximately 1 stillbirth for every 115 births.

What Causes Stillbirths?

Although it is sometimes not possible to determine the cause of a stillbirth, some common causes are:

  • birth defects
  • problems with the placenta or umbilical cord
  • maternal conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension

Are There Risk Factors For Stillbirths?

There are certain risk factors that, if present, should raise your doctor's suspicion that you have a high risk pregnancy and that steps should be taken to monitor and treat your unborn baby. Signs of problems that can result in a baby being stillborn include:

  • infections, such as fifth disease, toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, and herpes
  • placenta and umbilical cord problems
  • vaginal bleeding
  • trauma or injury to the mother's abdominal area
  • high blood pressure of the mother
  • diabetes in the mother
  • birth defects in the child
  • high blood pressure in the mother (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia)
  • smoking, as well as alcohol and drug use by the mother
  • Rh incompatibility
  • an autoimmune disorder in the mother
  • postmaturity (the pregnancy lasts 41 weeks or longer)
  • decreased fetal movement reported by the mother

What Should Be Done If Risk Factors Are Present?

When these or other warning signs are present, doctors and health care providers should take immediate steps to properly monitor the unborn baby, to treat the cause of any complication that has arisen, and, where necessary, to deliver the baby (usually by cesarean). Monitoring may include use of a stethoscope to listen to the fetal heartbeat, use of Doppler ultrasound to detect the heartbeat, and the use of an electronic fetal nonstress test to record the baby's heart rate, movements, and contractions in the uterus. In addition, the mother's urine can be checked regularly for any abnormalities. With monitoring and appropriate treatment, it may be possible to save the life of the unborn baby.

What Can We Do If Our Child Was Born Still?

If your child was stillborn and you suspect that the stillbirth resulted because a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider failed to provide adequate care during the pregnancy, or during labor and delivery, you should immediately contact a competent lawyer. The lawyer will be able to help you understand whether your child's stillbirth was the result of a health care provider's negligence, in which case the lawyer will also be able to assist you.

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