Fetal Demise: Was it Your Doctor’s Fault?

There’s a lot of things you plan for when you’re expecting a new baby. But no one plans for fetal demise. Losing a baby unexpectedly is a heartbreaking, difficult experience. 

Did doctors explain the reason why your baby was stillborn? Most of the time, the cause is an unpreventable medical problem. It’s no one’s fault. Not the doctor’s, not yours. But in a few cases, doctors could have prevented the death. If you believe your child’s death was the result of negligence, please call our legal advocates

Pregnant mother looks at her baby's sonogram.

What is Fetal Demise?

Fetal demise is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of gestation. It’s also called stillbirth or intrauterine fetal demise. All those two terms are interchangeable. However, fetal demise isn’t a miscarriage. Miscarriage is when a baby dies before 20 weeks. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 175 babies are stillborn. That’s around 21,000 babies each year in the United States. 

What Causes It?

When doctors give you the devastating news that your baby doesn’t have a heartbeat, you want to know why. What happened? 

Knowing where things went wrong won’t relieve a mother’s pain. But it may help doctors prevent another stillbirth from happening should she become pregnant again. 

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of what might cause fetal demise:

  • Placental Problems (Like placental abruption or placental insufficiency)
  • Maternal Infections (Such as malaria or HIV)
  • Post-term Pregnancy (Pregnancy that goes on for more than 40 weeks)
  • Genetic Abnormalities
  • Uterine Rupture
  • Delivery complications(Such as a breech birth)
  • Umbilical cord problems
  • Fetal growth restriction (FGR)
  • The amniotic sac breaks too early
  • Congenital birth defects

Sometimes the cause is unknown. One study found that post-mortem evaluations can pinpoint the cause the majority of the time. But there was no probable cause for about 15% of cases. 

What Increases the Risk?

The best way to lower the risk of stillbirth is to see your doctor on a regular basis. Adequate prenatal care can make all the difference. In fact, late-term fetal demise has gone down over the last 30 years because prenatal care is getting better (CDC)

That being said, stillbirth is more common among certain groups of people, such as black women. It is also more common in mothers over the age of 35. Low socioeconomic status also plays a part, since fetal demise is more common when a woman can’t get adequate healthcare. 

Also, certain behaviors or conditions can put a baby at risk, such as:

  • Smoking or using drugs
  • Experiencing previous stillbirths or miscarriages
  • Pregnancy of multiples (twins, triplets, or quadruplets)
  • Being obese
  • Having high blood pressure (aka preeclampsia, during pregnancy) or diabetes

Signs and Symptoms of Fetal Demise

The first sign of fetal demise that a woman may notice is a lack of movement in the womb. A baby should kick about 10 times in two hours. 

If the baby’s movements have slowed down, or there’s no movement at all, it’s time to head to the hospital. 

Other signs include:

  • Severe abdominal pain and cramping
  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • A sudden loss of pregnancy symptoms
  • High fever
  • No fetal heartbeat

If you’re pregnant and experience any of the symptoms above, you should contact your healthcare provider right away. The earlier doctors are made aware of an issue, the more likely it is that your baby will survive. 

Woman visits doctor with pregnancy concerns.

Is It Preventable?

Yes, in certain cases, fetal demise is preventable. It could be a doctor’s fault, and you may have the right to sue. 

So let’s say you found out your child’s death was preventable. What now? After a child passes away, you might think it’s better to avoid thinking about the “what ifs”. 

You want to cope with your grief. You need space to process. The last thing you might think about is taking legal action. 

But in order to cope, legal action may be the right path. Let us give you some examples of how malpractice can lead to fetal demise:

  • A doctor doesn’t listen to a mother’s concerns that her baby has stopped moving. 
  • Physicians fail to perform the right tests that would show the baby’s in danger. 
  • Doctors fail to treat an issue they know is there. 

Medical negligence that causes fetal demise is unacceptable. If your child was stillborn due to malpractice, it’s time to hold the medical providers involved accountable. 
A settlement or verdict won’t bring your child back. But financial assistance could help you and your family heal. Please contact Hampton & King’s expert lawyers here. We’ll help you understand your options and pursue the compensation you deserve.