A stillbirth is a death of a baby, at any time after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy.

A stillbirth is a traumatising and devastating loss of a baby, sometimes right at the end of a pregnancy when it’s least expected.

What is a stillbirth?

A stillbirth is the loss of a baby before or during delivery. Both miscarriage and stillbirth describe pregnancy loss, but they differ according to when the loss occurs. A stillbirth is when the loss happens after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Before this, if you lose your baby, it's called a miscarriage.

Are stillbirths common?

Around 1 in every 200 births in England result in a stillbirth. Footnote [1]   

Causes of stillbirth

Many babies born sleeping are otherwise healthy and no reason is found. But sometimes there is a more obvious cause.

The organ that links your baby’s blood supply to yours is called the placenta. Sometimes there can be complications with your placenta or it can separate from the womb, which can result in stillbirth.

Other conditions that may cause stillbirth include Footnote [2]:

  • Pre-eclampsia – a condition in the last 20 weeks of pregnancy where you have high blood pressure.
  • If you bleed heavily before or during labour (haemorrhage).
  • An infection which could affect your baby.
  • A problem with the umbilical cord (the tube which connects from the placenta to your baby’s tummy button).
  • Complications during childbirth.
  • A birth defect (where your baby hasn’t developed properly).

Tests to find the cause of the stillbirth

Losing your baby can be very distressing and you may be hoping to find out if there was a reason.

Some of the tests that doctors can perform are Footnote [3]:

  • Blood tests to see if you had any conditions, such as pre-eclampsia.
  • A specialist examination of the placenta and other pregnancy tissue.
  • Take samples of blood, urine or cells from around the birth canal to test for infection.
  • Genetic tests to look for any abnormalities.
  • Check your thyroid function.

You may be asked if you’d like your baby to have a post-mortem (also called an autopsy). This is an in-depth test where your baby’s body is medically examined to find out the cause of death.

The results can give you and your doctor important information about why your baby died and help you understand what happened – and possibly prevent future stillbirths.

Who is at risk of having a stillbirth?

If you’re having a multiple pregnancy there’s a risk of stillbirth, so your midwife and doctor will be checking you regularly to make sure the babies are alive and growing properly.

Other factors which could put you at risk are Footnote [2]:

  • Being over 35 years old.
  • Drug abuse, smoking or drinking alcohol during your pregnancy.
  • Having a BMI (body mass index), above 30.
  • If you have a pre-existing health condition such as diabetes or epilepsy.

If you have any of the above, you’ll be closely monitored by your medical team to identify if anything is affecting your pregnancy.

Signs of a stillbirth

Often, the only warning sign is your baby being less active in the womb.

If you notice a reduction in your baby’s movements, or if your baby hasn’t moved for a number of hours, call your midwife or the hospital and tell them. It doesn’t necessarily mean your baby has died, but it can be a sign that something’s wrong and it’s worth getting checked.

Vaginal bleeding and cramping can also be an indication that something is wrong with your baby, so contact your medical team for advice if this happens.

How to prevent a stillbirth

Although many stillbirths are unexplained there are some things you can do to reduce the chance of it occurring. Footnote [4]  

Regular antenatal check-ups are vital to ensure you and your baby are in the best health and the baby is growing at the rate it should be.

You may have been advised not to sleep on your back after you’ve reached 28 weeks of pregnancy as the baby’s weight puts pressure on the large vein that takes blood to the womb. This can reduce blood flow to your baby. If you wake up in the night on your back try not to worry, just turn on your side and settle back to sleep.

Be aware of your baby’s movements. You may notice a pattern of alertness and sleeping, and you may notice that your baby kicks more when you’re resting, or after you’ve eaten or drunk. Having this awareness will help you notice if anything feels different.

Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and recreational drugs as these can be harmful to your baby’s development and increase the risk of a stillbirth. Also, limit caffeinated drinks to no more than 200mg per day Footnote [5] as caffeine can cause blood vessels in the womb to constrict and so reduce the blood supply to your baby.

You can use your cover to pay for tests after a stillbirth

If you suffer from a stillbirth, you could use your health insurance policy for treatment. The first step is to get a referral from your GP, or through our Digital GP app ^.  Then you can make a claim through MyAviva, over the phone, or online

If we confirm that your claim meets the terms of your policy, we'll pay for the treatment directly. Just be sure to tell us if you need more tests or treatment, or if your hospital or specialist changes.

It’s good to have one less thing to worry about. It takes Aviva. 

^ These services are non-contractual and can be withdrawn or amended by Aviva at any time.

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