New research on stillbirths

December 13, 2011 6:59:16 PM PST
While the United States is a global force in medical research and disease prevention, American medicine has significant problems at the beginning of life.

Stillbirth rates are high in the U.S., higher than many other developing nations. But now researchers are working to change that.

Whitney Hawkins loves being a mom. 4-month-old Felicity is her second child. Felicity's older brother Maximus was a stillbirth.

"I didn't understand how I could go from one day to hearing the baby's heartbeat to a couple days later him being gone," she said.

Two new studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association look at nearly 500 stillbirth cases. Doctors completed autopsies, evaluated the placenta and conducted genetic tests. They found that the most common cause of a stillbirth involves complications during pregnancy and labor.

"Things like pre-term labor and like abruption accounted for a major proportion of the cases of stillbirth, in addition placental abnormalities also accounted for a major proportion of cases," said Dr. Robert Silver, University of Utah School of Medicine.

Other causes include genetic abnormalities with the fetus, infection and problems with the umbilical cord.

The researchers say race may also play a role.

"If you are black there's a two to two and a half fold increase in the rate of having a stillbirth compared to if you are white or Hispanic in the United States," adds Dr. Silver.

Regardless of race, the new research also finds that mothers who are overweight, over 40 or have a history of smoking or drug use may also be more at risk. But the exact cause of a stillbirth cannot always be determined or prevented.

After a full evaluation Whitney learned that a strep b infection may have played a role.

During her next pregnancy she was treated with anti-biotics and delivered Felicity with no complications.

"My heart has definitely healed there's still a spot missing for my baby boy but she's definitely made it so much better," she says.

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