Stillbirths due to Clinical Negligence

A stillbirth is when a baby is born dead after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy. If a baby dies before 24 weeks into the pregnancy this is known as a miscarriage.

What causes a stillbirth?

There are various reasons why a stillbirth can occur. Some of the main causes which have been linked to stillbirths are:

  • Complications with the placenta: The placenta is the life line between mother and baby which allows the baby to receive the blood supply and nutrients needed to enable it to develop. If there are problems with the functioning of the placenta then it can lead to the baby not receiving sufficient nourishment to survive.
  • Congenital abnormality
  • Bleeding (haemorrhage) before or during labour
  • Placental abruption – when the placenta separates from the womb before the baby is born.
  • A problem with the umbilical cord, which attaches the placenta to the baby’s tummy button – the cord can slip down through the entrance of the womb before the baby is born (known as cord prolapse), or it can be wrapped around the baby’s neck
  • Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) or obstetric cholestasis which is a liver disorder during pregnancy characterised by severe itching
  • Infection in the mother that also affects the baby

However, a cause is not always identified in some stillbirths.

What happens when a stillbirth occurs?

If there is reason to suspect that the baby may have died, then this is confirmed by an ultrasound or a CTG trace being performed which checks for the baby’s heartbeat.

If there is no immediate risk to the mother’s life then she is allowed to decide whether to wait for the labour to begin naturally or whether medication be taken which induces the labour. It is very unusual for a stillborn baby to be delivered by caesarean section.

After a stillbirth some parents may wish to find out the cause of their baby dying. Therefore, the medical professionals providing the care may discuss having a post-mortem examination done on the baby. However, this cannot be done without the parents consent.

How can a stillbirth be clinical negligence?

During the pregnancy there are various antenatal appointments that should take place to monitor the baby and the mother’s health and progress with the pregnancy. If the care provided during the pregnancy or during the birth of the baby is substandard then you may be able to claim compensation.