What Is Intrauterine Fetal Demise?
Intrauterine fetal demise (IUFD), commonly called stillbirth, occurs when a baby dies in the womb at or after the gestational age (age from conception to birth) of 20 weeks.
IUFD occurs in 1 of 175 births in the United States. Each year, about 21,000 babies are stillborn.
With IUFD, a mother often notices decreased fetal movement leading to the diagnosis. Although it is similar, IUFD is not the same as a miscarriage.
“In the United States, a miscarriage is usually defined as loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy, and a stillbirth is loss of a baby at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
Intrauterine fetal demise causes include birth defects, infections, or complications with the placenta or umbilical cord.
There are three types of IUFD:
|Type of IUFD||Stage of Pregnancy|
|Term||37 weeks or more|
IUFD can be a devastating experience. This can be especially true if it could have been prevented with proper care.
If you suspect medical negligence played a role in the causes of intrauterine fetal demise for your baby, you could be eligible for compensation to cover your expenses and emotional distress.
Get a free legal case review now.
A free case review is the first step in pursuing compensation for you and your family.
What Are the Causes of Intrauterine Fetal Demise?
There are many causes of intrauterine fetal demise, including birth defects and infections in the baby and mother.
Here is information on some of the most common intrauterine fetal demise causes.
Birth defects, or congenital abnormalities of the baby, cause about 25% of stillbirths. Intrauterine fetal demise causes include bladder exstrophy (when the bladder develops outside the baby) and limb-body-wall complex (severe abnormalities in the baby).
Feto-maternal hemorrhage (FMH) occurs when fetal blood cells pass into the mother’s blood. FMH can put the baby at severe risk of anemia, hydrops (large amounts of fluid buildup in tissue and organs), and fetal death. According to one study, FMH is responsible for 2% of all intrauterine fetal demise cases.
Genetic Disorders in the Baby
Approximately 25% of stillbirths are caused by genetic disorders in the baby. The most common genetic disorders in stillborn babies include Edwards syndrome, Down syndrome, Patau syndrome, and Turner syndrome.
Infections in the Baby
Infections in the baby between weeks 24 and 27 of pregnancy are among the top intrauterine fetal demise causes. Neonatal infections are often caused by bacteria that travel from the mother’s vagina to the uterus. Common bacteria include chlamydia, enterococcus, E. coli, mycoplasma, or Haemophilus influenza.
Infections in the Mother
Infections in the mother can be passed to the baby. Common maternal infections that are among intrauterine fetal demise causes include cytomegalovirus (CMV), urinary tract and genital infections, and toxoplasmosis (an infection caused by touching cat feces or eating undercooked meat).
Studies have revealed that placental dysfunction and abnormalities are one of the leading intrauterine fetal demise causes.
If the placenta does not develop properly, the baby will not get enough nutrients, oxygen, or blood, increasing the risk of IUFD. This can also occur in cases of placental abruption — when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before birth.
Umbilical Cord Issues
The baby receives nutrients, oxygen, and blood through the umbilical cord. Accordingly, issues with the umbilical cord are among the many intrauterine fetal demise causes.
If you have questions about the causes of intrauterine fetal demise, connect with one of our labor and delivery nurses now. There is no cost or obligation to talk with our registered nurses.
Risk Factors for Intrauterine Fetal Demise
Risk factors are conditions or behaviors that increase the likelihood of something. Understanding risk factors is important because knowing the potential causes of intrauterine fetal demise may help reduce its occurrence.
Here are some common risk factors that may contribute to intrauterine fetal demise causes.
Advanced Maternal Age
Mothers over age 35 are at increased risk for stillbirth, especially if they have never been pregnant. At age 40, the risk of stillbirth is 1 in 116 for a woman who has never given birth before and 1 in 304 for a woman who has previously given birth.
Mothers with gestational diabetes are 5 times more likely to experience stillbirth. Delivery teams can lower the risk of stillbirth by controlling blood glucose levels.
High Blood Pressure in the Mother
The incidence of stillbirth is 3 times higher for mothers with chronic high blood pressure, hypertension, or preeclampsia (blood pressure complication that occurs during pregnancy). Almost 10% of pregnant women experience high blood pressure.
History of Stillbirths or Miscarriages
Mothers with a history of stillbirths or miscarriages are more likely to experience IUFD. This may be due to genetic issues (like birth defects and genetic disorders in the baby) or acquired conditions (such as infections and high blood pressure).
Women who are obese are more likely to experience stillbirths. The risk of stillbirth is 8 in 1,000 in women with body mass indexes (BMIs) of 30 to 39.9 and 11 in 1,000 in women with BMIs greater than 40.
Pregnancy With Multiples
Women who are pregnant with multiple babies (such as twins and triplets) are 4 times more likely to experience stillbirth.
Fetal anomalies (unexpected conditions during fetal development), preterm birth, growth restriction, and twin-twin transfusion syndrome may be contributing factors.
Smoking During Pregnancy
Women who smoke during pregnancy have a 15 in 1,000 chance of experiencing IUFD. Those who quit before the beginning of the second trimester have the same risk as non-smokers.
Intrauterine Fetal Demise and Medical Negligence
Sometimes, intrauterine fetal demise causes involve medical negligence.
If your obstetrician, nurse, midwife, or other health care professional failed to identify and treat conditions that led to stillbirth, you may be able to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice.
IUFD can cause severe emotional trauma for families. While nothing can make up for the loss of a child, financial compensation can help families pay for related expenses and move forward with their lives.
If you suspect medical negligence could be among the possible causes of intrauterine fetal demise for your baby, see if you qualify for compensation with a free case review.
A free case review is the first step in pursuing compensation for you and your family.
Complications of IUFD
IUFD doesn’t only result in fetal death. If the stillborn baby is not removed from the uterus, the mother can experience a number of complications.
- Blood clots
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation (a clotting disorder that causes severe bleeding)
- Heavy bleeding
- Vaginal bleeding
If you experienced complications due to IUFD caused by negligence, you may be able to seek compensation for medical bills and other damages.
An experienced birth injury attorney can help determine whether you are eligible to file a medical negligence lawsuit for stillbirth based on your unique situation.
Maternal Treatment for IUFD
- Dilating the cervix to remove the baby (dilation and evacuation)
- Induction of labor
- Starting contractions by inserting a catheter (Foley bulb induction)
- Undergoing a cesarean section (C-section)
Risks of each treatment option vary and may include uterine damage, infection, and heavy bleeding.
After removing the baby, doctors may examine the placenta, run tests on the mother, and conduct a postmortem (after death) autopsy to determine the child’s cause of death.
Intrauterine Fetal Demise Prevention
Some IUFD cases cannot be prevented and have no recognizable cause. However, mothers can take the following steps to reduce the risk of IUFD.
- Attending all prenatal screenings
- Avoiding stressful situations to prevent undue anxiety, stress, and elevated blood pressure
- Discontinuing drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use
- Eating nutrient-rich foods
- Monitoring fetal movement for signs of life
- Sleeping on your side
Legal Options for Intrauterine Fetal Demise
You may be eligible to file a birth injury medical malpractice claim if IUFD was caused by doctor or hospital negligence. This could include mistakes that led to complications for the mother during childbirth or recovery.
- Economic damages are direct expenses such as medical bills associated with IUFD complications.
- Non-economic damages are subjective losses that do not involve money but can be just as harmful. Examples include mental anguish and pain and suffering.
Find Legal Help for IUFD Caused by Medical Negligence
Intrauterine fetal death is not the outcome parents expect, and it can cause devastating effects. Families often experience grief, anger, and depression. Treating the physical complications of IUFD can also be expensive and time-consuming.
The Birth Injury Justice Center works with some of the best medical malpractice law firms across the country. If you believe intrauterine fetal demise causes could have been avoided during your pregnancy, we may be able to help.
Intrauterine Fetal Demise Causes FAQs
What does intrauterine fetal demise mean?
Intrauterine fetal demise (IUFD) is when a baby dies in the womb at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. IUFD is also called stillbirth.
What are the common causes of intrauterine fetal demise?
Common causes of intrauterine fetal demise include:
- Birth defects
- Fetal growth restriction
- Genetic abnormalities in the baby
- Infections in the mother or baby
- Placental insufficiency and abnormalities
- Umbilical cord issues
- Uterine rupture
Women with thyroid problems, diabetes, obesity, and other medical conditions are more likely to experience intrauterine fetal death.
Additionally, women who have previously experienced IUFD are more likely to experience stillbirths for subsequent pregnancies.
What are the causes of IUFD in pregnancy?
IUFD in pregnancy can happen due to placental insufficiency or abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterus), fetal infection, genetic abnormalities, and umbilical cord complications.
What causes stillbirth at full term?
Stillbirth at full term can be caused by birth defects, infections in the mother, or problems with the umbilical cord or placenta. Regular check-ups during pregnancy can help catch and handle these issues early.
Is intrauterine fetal demise the same as miscarriage?
No, intrauterine fetal demise is not the same as a miscarriage.
While intrauterine fetal demise and miscarriage both involve babies dying inside the uterus, intrauterine fetal demise happens after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Miscarriage occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
What is the most common complication of intrauterine fetal death?
According to a study of 1,850 live births, here are the most common complications associated with IUFD:
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation, severe blood clotting (22.5%)
- Sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection (10%)
- Kidney failure (3.7%),
- Death of the mother (1.2%)
Can you sue the hospital for intrauterine fetal demise?
Yes. If the cause of your child’s death was negligence by a health care professional or hospital, you may be able to sue for stillbirth.
You may also be able to sue for medical conditions in the mother arising from IUFD, such as disseminated intravascular coagulation (abnormal blood clotting). Get a free legal case review now to learn about your legal options.