What is stillbirth?

In the United States, stillbirth refers to the death of a fetus at or after the 20th week of pregnancy.1 The death of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy is usually called a miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

Stillbirths can occur1, 2:

  • In the womb, before labor begins. This kind of stillbirth is also called an antepartum stillbirth. In the United States, slightly more than one-half of all stillbirths occur before the start of labor.3 Researchers may further categorize stillbirths into early (20 to 27 weeks of pregnancy) and late (28 to 36 weeks of pregnancy).
  • During labor and delivery. These deaths may be called preterm stillbirths (occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or term or intrapartum stillbirths (occurring at 37 weeks of pregnancy or later). The causes of stillbirths during labor and delivery tend to be different than the causes of stillbirths before labor.4

Some of the risk factors that can lead to stillbirth can also lead to a baby’s death just after birth.5 Learn more about risk factors for stillbirth.

How common is stillbirth?

Because of improvements in prenatal care, labor and delivery practices, and other factors, the rate of stillbirths in the United States has been dropping since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began collecting data in 1950. However, rates have leveled off in recent years. Nonetheless, the rate of early stillbirth decreased by 3% for 2020 over 2019.3 The rate of late stillbirth was relatively unchanged from 2019. CDC maintains statistics on stillbirth in the United States.

Different countries and regions of the world have different stillbirth definitions, rates, and characteristics. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stillbirth as fetal deaths at or after 28 weeks of pregnancy, but before or during birth.6 Using this definition, WHO estimates that there are more than 2 million stillbirths worldwide each year; about 40% of those occur before labor. Visit the WHO Stillbirth website external link to learn more.


  1. MacDorman, M. F., & Gregory, E. C. W. (2015). Fetal and perinatal mortality: United States, 2013. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(8). Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_08.pdf (PDF 1.4 MB)
  2. Silver, R. M., Varner, M. W., Reddy, U., Goldenberg, R., Pinar, H., Conway, D., et al. (2007). Work-up of stillbirth: A review of the evidence. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 196(5), 433–444. Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699761  
  3. Gregory, E. C. W., Valenzuela, C. P., & Hoyert, D. L. (2022). Fetal mortality: United States, 2020. National Vital Statistics Reports, 71(4). Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr71/nvsr71-04.pdf (PDF 804 KB)
  4. The Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network Writing Group. (2011). Causes of death among stillbirths. Journal of the American Medical Association, 306(22), 2459–2468. Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562291
  5. Blencowe, H., Cousens, S., Jassir, F. B., Say, L., Chou, D., Mathers, C., et al. (2016). National, regional, and worldwide estimates of stillbirth rates in 2015, with trends from 2000: A systematic analysis. The Lancet Global Health, 4(2), e98–e108. Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26795602/
  6. World Health Organization. (2022). Stillbirth rate (per 1000 total births). Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.who.int/data/gho/indicator-metadata-registry/imr-details/2444 external link
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