Stillbirth: Topic Information

What is stillbirth?

The definition of a stillbirth varies between countries.1 In the United States, a stillbirth is generally defined as the death of a fetus at or after the 20th week of pregnancy.2

Stillbirths can occur at different points during pregnancy:2,3

  • Before labor. Death can happen inside the womb, before labor begins. This kind of stillbirth is called an antepartum stillbirth. In the United States, most stillbirths occur before the start of labor.4
  • During labor. Death can also happen during labor. This is an intrapartum stillbirth. The causes of these stillbirths tend to be different than the causes of stillbirths before labor.4

Sometimes fetal deaths and infant deaths in the first week or first months of life are grouped together, even though they may occur at different times. When these deaths are looked at together, they are called perinatal (pronounced per-uh-NEYT-l) deaths, meaning “around the time of birth.” This is because some of the same problems and risks can lead to a death either before or just after birth.5

The death of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy is usually called a miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Learn more at the Pregnancy Loss A-Z topic.

  1. Fretts, R. (2011). High income countries. In C. Spong (Ed.), Stillbirth: prediction, prevention, and management (pp. 3–18). Chichester, UK: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd. [top]
  2. MacDorman, M. F., Kirmeyer, S. E., & Wilson, E. C. (2012). Fetal and perinatal mortality, United States, 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports, 60(8). Retrieved July 31, 2013, from (PDF - 433 KB) [top]
  3. 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. [top]
  4. The Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network Writing Group. (2011). Causes of death among stillbirths. Journal of the American Medical Association, 306(22), 2459–2468. [top]
  5. Cousens, S., Blencowe, H., Stanton, C., Chou, D., Ahmed, S., Steinhardt, L., et al. (2011). National, regional, and worldwide estimates of stillbirth rates in 2009 with trends since 1995: a systematic analysis. The Lancet, 377(9774), 1319–1330. [top]

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