Fetal death refers to a fetus’s spontaneous intrauterine death at any point during pregnancy. Fetal deaths that occur later in pregnancy (at 20 weeks or more, or 28 weeks or more, for instance) are also called stillbirths.

Most states record fetal fatalities at 20 weeks of gestation or more and a birth weight of 350 grams or higher. Nonetheless, fetal fatalities are reported in a few states at all stages of pregnancy.


The three types of fetal death or stillbirth include:

  • Early stillbirth. Between 20 and 27 weeks of pregnancy
  • Late stillbirth. Between 28 and 36 weeks of pregnancy
  • Term stillbirth. Occurs at or after 37 weeks of pregnancy


Expectant moms may encounter a variety of signs of intrauterine fetal death. Typical symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Abdomen pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Cramping
  • Not feeling the fetus moving or kicking
  • Overall discomfort

Many pregnant women initially discover their baby is not moving or kicking enough. Doctors may suggest counting the baby’s movements at 28 weeks. Fetal movement depends on gestational age.


The relevance of history and physical examination in diagnosing fetal death is limited. The only symptom in the majority of individuals is reduced fetal movement. The failure to get fetal heart tones during testing implies fetal mortality, although this is not definitive; an ultrasonographic investigation must verify death.

The lack of cardiac activity and visualization of the fetal heart are used to identify fetal death.


When an intrauterine fetal death is detected, the doctor will notify the parents and discuss options for terminating the pregnancy and inducing birth. Parents may choose to wait to be induced after grieving the death of their child or to take the baby if there are other healthy infants in the womb.

Treatment options for fetal death include:

  • Dilation of the cervix to remove the fetus (dilation and evacuation procedure)
  • A catheter is inserted to trigger contractions (Foley bulb induction)
  • Taking medication to induce labor and natural delivery

A doctor will advise the mother of any possible risk factors before choosing which treatment option to use to deliver a stillborn child. Infection, uterine injury, and excessive bleeding are all common risk factors. If the unborn baby is not removed from the uterus, complications such as blood clots, fever, discomfort, infection, and vomiting may occur.

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