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Intrauterine fetal demise

Intrauterine fetal demise (also called IUFD or stillbirth) occurs when a child dies in the womb at or after the 20th week of pregnancy. Unfortunately, 24,000 stillbirths occur in the U.S. each year. Intrauterine fetal demise can be caused by infection, genetic diseases, and more.

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What is intrauterine fetal demise?

Intrauterine fetal demise (IUFD) is the medical term for a fetus that dies at or after the 20th week or second trimester of gestation. IUFD differs from a miscarriage, which occurs before the 20th week of pregnancy.

There are three categories of intrauterine fetal demise that are characterized by when the fetus died in utero and how far along the stillbirth occurred in the pregnancy.

The three types of IUFD include:

  • Early stillbirth: Occurs between 20 and 27 weeks of gestation
  • Late stillbirth: Occurs between 28 and 36 weeks of gestation
  • Term stillbirth: Occurs upon or after 37 weeks of gestation

Stillbirth has many causes, such as infections, issues with the umbilical cord and/or placenta, and overall complications with labor. It is important to note some cases of IUFD may not have any apparent cause.

IUFD can happen to anyone. However, doctors can identify risk factors of intrauterine fetal demise and ensure the expectant mother is properly monitored, diagnosed, and treated for any complications that may increase these risks.

Unfortunately, some cases of intrauterine fetal demise may be caused by lack of prenatal care by doctors. If a medical professional failed to screen, diagnose, or treat any risk factors leading to a stillbirth, it may be considered medical negligence.

A doctor performs an ultrasound on a pregnant woman.

Causes of intrauterine fetal demise

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of intrauterine fetal demise. However, there are several factors that can lead to stillbirth.

Common causes of stillbirth include:

  • Birth defects (congenital abnormalities of the fetus)
  • Blood transfer from baby to mother (feto-maternal hemorrhage)
  • Fetal infection
  • Genetic disorder of the fetus
  • Maternal infection
  • Placenta separated from inner uterine wall (placental abruption)
  • Umbilical cord issues
  • Underdeveloped or damaged placenta (placental dysfunction)

Unfortunately, some of these issues are not totally preventable. However, your obstetrician may be able to monitor possibly dangerous conditions and take necessary precautions to ensure a safe delivery. If a doctor fails to do this, it may be considered medical negligence.

If your child suffered from intrauterine fetal demise and you believe your doctor failed to monitor, diagnose, or treat underlying conditions that caused it, you may be able to access financial assistance.

Get started by contacting one of our caring and trusted registered nurses, who can listen to your story and help answer any questions you may have.

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Intrauterine fetal demise risk factors

There are several known risk factors that may lead to complications resulting in intrauterine fetal demise. These risk factors can vary based on whether they directly affect the fetus or the mother.

Risk factors of intrauterine fetal demise include:

  • Gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Mother being 35 years or older (advanced maternal age)
  • Multiple fetuses in the womb
  • Obesity
  • Previous stillbirths or miscarriages
  • Use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco during pregnancy

Although some cases of intrauterine fetal demise cannot be prevented and have no explanation, some of the risk factors listed above can be controlled or monitored.

If you are considered a high-risk pregnancy, it is important to attend regular prenatal checkups with your doctor to keep track of your baby's development.

Intrauterine fetal demise affects about 1 in 160 births each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of intrauterine fetal demise

There are several symptoms of intrauterine fetal demise that expectant mothers might experience.

As researchers continue to study why IUFD occurs in some births and not others, it is important for mothers to be aware of these symptoms during pregnancy.

Common intrauterine fetal demise symptoms may include:

  • Cramping
  • Fever
  • Not feeling the fetus moving or kicking
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Overall discomfort
  • Vaginal bleeding

Many pregnant women first notice that their baby is not moving or kicking as much as they should be. At the 28th week of pregnancy, doctors may recommend counting how often the baby moves in the womb. The frequency of fetal movement can depend on the baby’s gestational age.

  • If you start to experience any abnormalities or any of the symptoms listed above, call your doctor right away to get a prompt and proper diagnosis and ensure the safety of you and your child. If you are experiencing severe symptoms in an emergency situation, seek immediate medical help and call 911.

Intrauterine fetal demise diagnosis

The only way to confirm a diagnosis of intrauterine death is to see your obstetrics specialist. Your doctor will be able to examine your symptoms and run tests to check for signs of life in the womb.

Diagnostic tests used to diagnose stillbirth include:

  • Biophysical profile: A combination of ultrasound and non-stress tests to monitor fetal vital signs
  • Non-stress test: Monitor that connects to the fetus to check heart rate
  • Ultrasound: Imaging that looks for signs of life and movement in the womb itself
  • Umbilical artery doppler velocimetry: Checks that umbilical cord blood is flowing properly

Expectant parents can feel shocked and devastated if intrauterine fetal demise occurs. Doctors highly encourage the expectant mother to be part of the intrauterine fetal demise diagnosis process and see the fetus no longer has a heartbeat so they can emotionally process the loss of their child.

Doctors may also run tests on the mother, examine the placenta, and conduct a postmortem autopsy with the permission of the parents to determine the cause of death.

These tests not only aim to find the cause of the intrauterine fetal demise, but to potentially prevent the mother from experiencing another IUFD in the future.

Intrauterine fetal demise treatment

When an intrauterine fetal demise is diagnosed, the doctor will inform the parents and discuss options for the termination of pregnancy and induction of labor.

In this instance, parents have a few options to consider. Parents may decide to take time to process the loss of their child and be induced at a later date. The mother also may wait to remove the baby if there are other babies in the womb who are healthy and can be safely delivered.

IUFD treatment options include:

  • Dilating the cervix to remove the fetus (dilation and evacuation procedure)
  • Inserting a catheter to start contractions (Foley bulb induction)
  • Taking medicine to induce labor and deliver naturally

The mother will be able to choose which treatment method she prefers in order to deliver a stillborn child.

A doctor comforts a female patient.A doctor will inform the mother of any potential risk factors that come with these treatment methods. Common risk factors include infection, uterine damage, and heavy bleeding.

There are many complications a mother can experience if the unborn fetus is not removed from the uterus. The mother may experience blood clots, infection, pain, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and heavy bleeding if the fetus remains in the body.

Losing a child is devastating, and you should not have to go through this alone. Our team is here to listen to your story, answer your questions, and connect you with emotional and financial resources when you need them most. Contact us today.

Emotional support after experiencing a stillbirth

Intrauterine fetal demise is not the pregnancy outcome any parent hopes for. This can be an incredibly heartbreaking period of time for parents as they grieve the loss of their baby.

In the wake of IUFD, parents may have feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, helplessness, and depression. It is important for parents to take care of their mental health during this difficult time. Some parents may feel the need to express their feelings and grieve their infant death in an emotionally supportive environment.

Support options for parents suffering from pregnancy loss include:

  • Confiding in family and friends
  • Connecting with other parents in online forums
  • Joining support groups
  • Seeing a therapist

These options help parents talk about their loss with the support of their loved ones, mental health professionals, and families who have experienced the same situation. Having others to confide in can greatly help in the healing process.

It is important for parents affected by intrauterine fetal demise to remember their children and carry on their memory to help with the grieving process.

Ways to honor a baby who passed include:

  • Making a donation to a charity in your child’s name
  • Planting a tree in their memory
  • Stamping their hands and feet on a piece of paper
  • Taking photos with them after they are delivered
  • Talking about your baby to others

Sadly, losing a child can affect a parent forever. The grieving process is different for everyone. Always be sure to reach out to a family, friend, or medical professional if you need someone to talk to about the loss of your baby.

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Seek legal help for intrauterine fetal demise

Unfortunately, intrauterine fetal demise can affect a family for years to come. It is an incredibly devastating experience that could have possibly been prevented in some situations.

Although some cases of IUFD cannot be prevented, small medical mistakes such as failing to detect or treat risk factors during pregnancy can lead to a child’s death before they’re even born.

Nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals who failed to ensure the safety of your baby should be held responsible for their actions.

If you believe your child suffered from intrauterine fetal demise due to lack of care during pregnancy, you may be able to seek legal help. Speak with one of our experienced registered nurses today to see if you qualify.

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

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