What a Stillbirth Might Mean for Future Pregnancies

Stillbirth may increase risk of another in future pregnancies, but risk increase was modest

(RxWiki News) Stillbirth rates have declined in many developed countries, and that’s very good news. Unfortunately, one stillbirth may increase the chances of another one later on.

A new study found that once a woman has had a stillbirth, her risk of a second stillbirth may increase. While this increase was significant, the overall risk of stillbirth remained low.

"Stillbirth is one of the most common adverse obstetric outcomes and a traumatic experience for parents," said lead study author Dr. Sohinee Bhattacharya, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, in a press release. "Couples who have experienced a stillbirth need to understand why it happened and want to know the risk for future pregnancies."

To collect data on stillbirths, Dr. Bhattacharya and team looked at a total of 16 studies from high-income countries, including Australia, the US, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Altogether, these studies yielded data on more than 3 million women.

More than 99 percent of these women had a past live birth. However, 0.07 percent had a stillbirth in an initial pregnancy.

In subsequent pregnancies, 2.5 percent of women who had already had one stillbirth had a second stillbirth. For those women whose initial pregnancies ended in a live birth, only 0.04 percent of second pregnancies ended with a stillbirth.

Overall, the risk of a stillbirth was increased four times if a woman had a past stillbirth. Still, even this raised risk remained relatively low.

Dr. Bhattacharya and colleagues were not able to determine exactly why the stillbirths occurred. Risk factors for stillbirth include obesity, smoking and maternal age, among other factors.

Women who have had a stillbirth should receive counseling to help them deal with the experience, these researchers said. Also, pregnancy education on weight management and other lifestyle factors could help reduce the risk of stillbirths.

Dr. Bhattacharya and colleagues recommended close monitoring once a patient has had a stillbirth.

Although the vast majority of births end happily, prevention efforts are key to changing the stillbirth picture. More research is necessary to identify the specific causes of stillbirths and to help prevent this outcome.

This study was published in the June issue of The BMJ.

The University of Aberdeen funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 23, 2015