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Stillbirth vs Miscarriage: Know The Differences

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stillbirth vs miscarriage

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Stillbirth vs miscarriage are both heartbreaking events related to pregnancy loss, but they have important differences. A miscarriage happens when a pregnancy ends before the baby can survive outside the mother’s womb. In contrast, stillbirth occurs when a baby passes away in the womb after around 20 weeks of pregnancy or near the end.

It’s common for people to confuse these terms, but knowing the difference is vital. In our conversation, we’ll delve into the unique signs, treatments, and risks associated with each. Remember that both miscarriage and stillbirth are emotionally tough experiences, often requiring support and counseling to help individuals cope.

Also read: What is a rainbow baby?

What is a Stillbirth?

A stillbirth occurs when a baby sadly passes away after spending 20 weeks or more inside the mother’s womb. This can happen before the baby is born or during birth when it doesn’t show any signs of life. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that approximately 1 out of 160 births result in stillbirth, which means around 24,000 babies are still born every year.

Stillbirths are categorized into three groups based on when they happen during pregnancy.

  • An early stillbirth takes place in the late second trimester, usually between 20 and 27 weeks.
  • Late stillbirth occurs during the third trimester, typically between 28 and 36 weeks.
  • Lastly, “term stillbirth” occurs when the baby passes away at full term, which is 37 weeks or more into the pregnancy.

In all these cases, the baby doesn’t show any signs of life, like breathing or having a heartbeat.

Causes of Stillbirth

A stillbirth can occur during pregnancy, regardless of your age, background, or ethnicity. Sometimes, we can’t explain why it happens; it’s unpredictable. But there are steps you can take to reduce the risk even if you are still unsure about the difference between stillbirth vs miscarriage.

You’re at higher risk if you smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs during pregnancy. Being over 35, not getting good prenatal care, being malnourished, being Black, having twins or more, having pre existing health issues, or being obese also increase the risk.

Understanding the cause of stillbirth is important for both healthcare providers and grieving parents. While the cause isn’t always known (1 in 3 cases), common reasons include

  • Problems with the placenta or umbilical cord
  • Conditions like preeclampsia or lupus
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Other medical illnesses (like diabetes or infections)
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices (like smoking or drug use)
  • Birth defects
  • Trauma
  • Specific pregnancy-related conditions like ICP (intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy)

Identifying the cause can provide insight and closure in the grieving process.

Signs & Symptoms of Stillbirth

The main sign of stillbirth is when your baby doesn’t move or kick anymore. You might also feel cramps, pain, or see bleeding from your vagina. If you experience any of these, get in touch with your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

Diagnosis of Stillbirth

Many times, stillbirths are discovered while the baby is still in the womb. Patients may notice bleeding, reduced movements, or other signs of potential problems and tell their doctor or midwife. Often, the healthcare provider can’t detect a heartbeat, so they do another ultrasound to confirm the stillbirth.

In some cases of stillbirth vs miscarriage, parents may not realize there’s a stillbirth until after the baby is born. This is less common than finding out before or during labor, but it can happen. However, if electronic monitoring is used during labor, healthcare providers usually detect if the baby has passed away before birth.

Treatment of Stillbirth

When a baby has passed away inside the mother’s womb, the medical team will provide support during this emotional period. The next step is usually delivering the stillborn baby, and the method depends on factors like the baby’s age in the womb and the mother’s health.

The team will discuss delivery options, often considering inducing labor to minimize risks for the mother and reduce hospital stay. They understand how important the parents’ emotional well-being is during this time. Parents may want to know why this happened, although it’s not always clear. The medical team can help investigate the cause if desired.

Many hospitals offer support teams and resources for grieving parents, including ways to cherish their baby’s memory.

What is a Miscarriage?

A miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy, sometimes even before a person realizes they’re pregnant. It’s also known as early pregnancy loss or spontaneous abortion, and it’s more common than stillbirth. About 10% to 15% of pregnancies in the United States end in a miscarriage, but the actual number might be higher since some go unreported.

Most miscarriages occur in the first trimester, which is the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In fact, 80% of all pregnancy losses happen during this time, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Miscarriages in the second trimester, which is from 13 to 19 weeks, are less common.

Causes of Miscarriage

Chromosomal problems are responsible for about 50% of all miscarriages that happen in the first three months of pregnancy. Chromosomes are like tiny instruction books inside your cells that decide things like your gender, hair, eye color, and blood type.

When an egg and sperm meet, they bring their own set of chromosomes, but if one of them has too many or too few chromosomes, it can lead to a baby having an abnormal number, potentially resulting in miscarriage vs stillbirth. As the fertilized egg grows into a baby, it divides and multiplies. Sometimes, things go wrong during this process, causing a miscarriage.

Most of the time, these chromosome issues occur randomly, and we’re not entirely sure why. Other factors that might lead to a miscarriage include infections, certain diseases, hormone imbalances, problems with the way the fertilized egg attaches in the womb, your age, issues with your uterus or cervix, lifestyle choices like smoking or drinking, immune system disorders, serious health problems, and some medications.

There’s no solid scientific evidence that stress, exercise, sex, or birth control pills cause miscarriages. Remember that having a miscarriage is not your fault. Most of the time, it happens for reasons beyond your control.

Signs & Symptoms of Miscarriage

The most common signs of a miscarriage are cramps and bleeding. You might also notice spotting, a sudden flow of fluid from your vagina, or the passing of tissue. These cramps can vary in intensity, and sometimes you won’t feel any at all.

However, in some cases of stillbirth vs miscarriage, the latter can happen without any noticeable symptoms. This is known as a missed miscarriage. For instance, during a routine ultrasound, a fetal heartbeat may be present, and there may be no cramps or vaginal bleeding. But when you return for another ultrasound, the heartbeat might no longer be detectable.

Diagnosis of Miscarriage

During your pregnancy checkup, your doctor will do an ultrasound to see if there’s a miscarriage.

  • They’ll look for a baby’s heartbeat or a yolk sac, one of the first things they can see on the ultrasound.
  • You might also need a blood test to check the level of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), made by the placenta. If the hCG level is low, it could mean a miscarriage.
  • Your doctor might do a pelvic exam to see if your cervix has opened.


If you’re going through a miscarriage, your doctor will guide you through each step, both physically and emotionally, with care. Some people can manage a miscarriage at home, especially if the bleeding isn’t too heavy. Your healthcare provider will always inform you about signs of excessive bleeding and when it’s necessary to go to the hospital.

If you have a “missed miscarriage,” where the process hasn’t started yet, you’ll have a few choices. You can wait for a few days to see if the miscarriage happens naturally, take medication to induce it, or opt for a surgical procedure to remove the pregnancy.

Regardless of your choice or your situation, your healthcare provider will stay in touch to monitor your physical and emotional well-being in the weeks following your miscarriage.

Difference Between Miscarriage And Stillbirth

Miscarriage vs stillbirth both involve losing a pregnancy, but they happen at different times during a pregnancy. People sometimes use these words interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same. Let’s look at the key differences:

Miscarriage vs stillbirth(Point of difference)StillbirthMiscarriage
TimeLoss of pregnancy in the second halfLoss of pregnancy before 20 weeks
Signs & symptomsAbdominal cramping
Fluid discharge before bleeding due to membrane rupture surrounding the babyUnlikely
TreatmentLabor induction to deliver the baby vaginallyMedication to eliminate the tissues like a menstrual period
Dilation & Curettage to remove the remaining tissues
Dilation & Evacuation in the 3rd trimester or nearing EDD
No treatment for natural miscarriage

A Note From Parenthoodbliss

Losing a pregnancy is tough, and it’s okay to feel sad about it. Everyone’s way of coping with this loss is different, and that’s completely normal. There’s no set timeline for grieving, and it’s okay to feel a mix of emotions like sadness, anger, guilt, or anxiety after a pregnancy loss.

Stillbirth vs miscarriage? Many people who’ve been through this feel alone and find it hard to talk about it. That’s why it’s important to reach out to friends, family, or a mental health expert who can help you during this difficult time. You don’t have to go through it alone.

Stillbirth vs Miscarriage FAQs:

1. What is more common miscarriage vs stillbirth?

A miscarriage, which is also known as early pregnancy loss or spontaneous abortion, happens more often than stillbirth. According to the March of Dimes, about 10% to 15% of all pregnancies in the United States result in a miscarriage. The actual number may be even greater because some miscarriages go unreported.

2. What is the difference between a stillborn and a stillbirth?

You can detect stillbirth through an ultrasound, which reveals that the baby's heart has stopped beating. After birth, if the baby doesn't show any signs of life like breathing, a heartbeat, or movements, it's considered a stillborn baby.

3. How many weeks does a miscarriage become a stillborn?

A stillbirth occurs when a baby passes away after the 24th week of pregnancy or during delivery. This is a heartbreaking event for parents and can have unexpected impacts on you and your family.

4. How can I avoid a stillbirth?

You may not be able to avoid stillbirth completely but you can reduce the risks of it by following these religiously: Exercise Eat healthily Stop smoking Have the flu jab Avoid people who are ill Go to sleep on your side Avoid alcohol in pregnancy Tell your midwife about any drug use Attend all your antenatal appointments

5. Can stress cause a stillbirth?

A woman who went through five or more stressful events was almost 2.5 times more likely to have a stillborn baby compared to a woman who hadn't experienced any stress.

6. Is it painful to have a miscarriage?

Not all miscarriages cause physical pain, but many do. Some people experience strong cramps, while others have milder ones, similar to period cramps. If you are wondering the difference between stillbirth vs miscarriage, remember that it's also usual to have vaginal bleeding and pass large blood clots, sometimes as big as a lemon.

7. How do you confirm a miscarriage at home?

Here are the symptoms of a miscarriage: Red, pink, or brown vaginal bleeding or spotting Pain or cramps in the lower abdomen Passing blood clots or tissue from the vagina

8. How long can a miscarriage last?

In most situations, a miscarriage will usually happen naturally within about two weeks.

9. What is a miscarriage baby called?

Let's break down some terms you might come across: Rainbow baby: This is a baby born after a loss of any kind. Sunshine baby: It refers to a living child who was born before a pregnancy loss. Angel baby: This term is used when a baby is lost during pregnancy, during childbirth, or after being born. Born sleeping: This phrase is used to describe a baby that was stillborn, meaning they were born without signs of life.

10. What week is stillbirth most common?

When a pregnancy reaches 40 weeks or later, the chance of stillbirth goes up. This is especially true for women aged 35 or older. Research indicates that their risk of stillbirth doubles between 39 and 40 weeks, and it becomes more than six times higher at 42 weeks.

Sources :

On behalf of the editorial team at Parenthoodbliss, we follow strict reporting guidelines and only use credible sources, along with peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and highly respected health organizations. To learn about how we maintain content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

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