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Stillbirth often linked to placenta, says US research

Stillbirth is often caused by pregnancy complications such as problems with the placenta or pre-term labour, according to US research.

Ten years ago, little was known about the causes of stillbirth, a term that describes when a baby dies at or after the 20th week of pregnancy.

While rare in the US, stillbirth happens in one of 160 pregnancies, at a higher rate than other developed countries.

A pair of studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that about half the time, one or more pregnancy complications appear to be the cause.

These include problems with the placenta – which provides nutrients and blood to the foetus and removes waste – in 26 per cent of cases, said the findings led by researchers at the US National Institutes of Health.

Infections caused 14-19 per cent of stillbirths, and fetal abnormalities and problems with the umbilical cord were each linked to about 10 per cent of stillbirths.

Looking at data from 500 pregnant women across five states, researchers were able to identify a probable cause of stillbirth in 61 per cent of cases.

About a third of those were linked to one or more causes.

Often, the research was thwarted by the lack of a post-mortem analysis, which about half of families do not authorise due to the trauma of the moment or financial concerns.

The study began with a potential set of over 900 women and ended with just 500, because it focused only on those who had ordered a complete post-mortem analysis.

“Our study showed that a probable cause of death – more than 60 percent – could be found by a thorough medical evaluation,” said Uma Reddy, one of the study authors.

“Having greater availability of medical evaluation of stillborn infants, particularly autopsy, placental exam and karyotype (chromosomal analysis), would provide information to better understand the causes of stillbirth.”

Researchers also found African-American women face more than twice the risk of stillbirth than white or Hispanic women.

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