We’ve all heard about SIDS – the sudden unexplained deaths of babies in their cribs that occur for no determinable medical reason. And yet fifteen times as many babies die due to SADS - sudden antenatal death syndrome - about which little is written or spoken.
On average there are over 2,000 SIDS deaths in the United States every year. Stillbirth deaths number close to 30,000 babies.
Stillbirth is the death of a baby in its mother’s womb, after 20 weeks gestational age and up to the moment of delivery, which is when many babies die…. at the “finish line”!
Stillbirth is unpredictable and random. It often strikes like lightening in a thunderstorm. There is no way to know when or where it will strike next. The reason is one-half to two-thirds of stillbirths occur for indeterminable reasons. They are the ones that cannot be attributed to a specific identifiable medical cause. And yet there must be one. These babies, like grown ups, don't die for no reason. We just need to find the reason!
Because of its randomness, and the lack of any warning, stillbirth, can be said to be "An Equal Opportunity Destroyer of Dreams". It cuts across socio-economic classes, races, body types, religions, and maternal age groups. No woman is immune from stillbirth.
Even women who have had successful prior births can suffer a stillbirth loss.
That so many stillbirths occur at or near late term - when the developing baby is well beyond the point of viability and could survive outside the womb - is devastating.
Autopsies, when performed, rarely uncover any cause of stillbirth not already apparent from a physical examination of the baby and placenta.
There is no uniform stillbirth post-mortem (autopsy) protocol in use today anywhere in the United States. Every autopsy is done according to local practice. Because of that fact there is no uniform data available for analysis.
When a post-mortem procedure is performed, it is rare for the mother to be interviewed, this in spite of the fact she may have vital clues to her baby's cause of death. A uniform protocol would address this shortcoming among other things.
There is no centralized repository for autopsy data. If there were it would make analysis and comparison of findings possible. Imagine the chaos that would reign if police kept fingerprint cards in each department's file cabinet. Crimes would never be solved, just as stillbirth isn't being solved because the data - when autopsies are performed - is not made available to researchers but kept at each hospital, if it is saved at all.
The practice of “counting kicks” – fetal movements – is a low-tech test women can do at home on a regular daily basis. By monitoring her baby’s rate of activity she can identify any sudden change and immediately have her baby evaluated. Sudden changes can be a sign your baby is in distress. The National Stillbirth Society, in cooperation with Dr. Jason Collins, founder of The Pregnancy Institute, has a pamphlet entitled "Kicks Count". It's available for download free of charge at www.protectyourpregnancy.com.
Another sign of possible fetal distress - other than a change in the frequency or intensity of fetal movements - is hiccups. Hiccups often accompany cases of cord compression. A pregnant woman who becomes aware of her baby having multiple episodes of hiccups lasting 10 minutes or more should have an ultrasound examination of baby's umbilical cord for any indication of compression or entanglement.
There is virtually nothing a woman can do - or not do - that can cause the intentional or accidental stillbirth of a baby in late term. "Substance abuse", if engaged in, typically causes miscarriages early in the pregnancy, but not late term stillbirths. ("Substance abuse" can cause birth defects, however, and for that reason should always be avoided.)
Late term stillbirths remain a case of "natal roulette", played by nature, and is as deadly as the well-known "Russian Roulette". All a mother can do is be on the alert for - and act on - any symptoms of fetal distress and have regular stress tests. The National Stillbirth Society has posted a Preferred Pregnancy Management Protocol provided by Dr. Collins of The Pregnancy Institute. Few insurance plans cover all of the recommended testing listed in this protocol but mothers-to-be may want to come out of pocket themselves just so they can have benefit of the added level of monitoring. The protocol can be found at www.protectyourpregnancy.com.
Mothers wishing to exercise an abundance of caution can investigate the availability of night-time fetal heartbeat monitoring via the Internet. A relatively recent procedure it is available through The Pregnancy Institute founded by Dr. Collins. A "white paper" explaining the procedure can be found atwww.protectyourpregnancy.com.
One in every 115 deliveries is a dead baby. If deliveries were aircraft landings, Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, with about 700 landings daily, would have 6 fatal crashes every day. How long does one think the FAA would allow that to continue? Twenty-four hours? And yet as a nation we tolerate 80 pregnancies on average "crashing" daily in the U. S.
Until all causes of stillbirth are identified there can be no cure. Until there is a cure, there can be no peace of mind for pregnant women. Babies will continue to be vulnerable to "reproductive roulette", where the majority is lucky...... but 30,000 a year aren't.