Definitions and medical terms relating to stillbirth

Parents get lots of information after a stillbirth and some of it can be confusing and hard to understand. Find some commonly used medical terms related to stillbirth here.

Anaesthetist

An anaesthetist is a doctor who specialises in providing pain relief. They may administer an epidural, spinal or general anaesthetic if required. They may also provide care if you are extremely unwell and need high-dependency care. 

Antepartum stillbirth

Antepartum stillbirth is the term for when the baby dies in the womb before labour begins.

Antiphospholipid syndrome (also known as Hughes’s syndrome, Sticky bloody syndrome, APS)

Antiphospholipid syndrome is a condition that causes blood clots, which can prevent the placenta from developing and working properly. 

Bereavement midwife or officer

A bereavement midwife, or officer, has had special training in helping parents after a pregnancy loss or stillbirth. They can talk to you about bereavement, seeing your baby, spending time creating memories with your baby and the support that’s available when you leave the hospital. They can also help you with paperwork, planning a funeral, and other practical matters after a stillbirth.

Cervix

The cervix is the passage at the end of the womb that leads to the vagina. The cervix is normally closed and very narrow. When you give birth, the cervix opens to allow the baby through the vagina and out of the body. Sometimes health professionals talk about ‘cervical incompetence’. Try to remember that this is a medical term – it doesn’t describe you or your body. Read about having a weak cervix (cervical incompetence).

Chaplain

Chaplains offer spiritual care to patients and their families. They can help you if you want your baby to be blessed following a stillbirth, need guidance organising the funeral or need spiritual support while you’re in hospital. Some hospitals have chaplains from different faiths. You don’t have to be a practising believer to talk to the chaplain. In some hospitals, the chaplain will also take on the role of bereavement officer and help you with the practicalities such as paperwork too. 

Chromosomal abnormalities

If a baby carries too many or not enough chromosomes, they won’t develop properly in the womb. Chromosomal abnormalities are thought to be a possible cause of early miscarriage (before 12 weeks) and stillbirth later in pregnancy.

Chorioamnionitis

Chorioamnionitis, also known as an intrauterine infection, is infection within the womb and can involve the membranes that surround the baby, the umbilical cord and/or the amniotic fluid. The infection is usually caused by natural bacteria which normally live in the vagina and skin which have migrated to the womb.

Consultant

A consultant is a surgeon or physician of senior rank in a hospital who has completed specialist training.

Cord prolapse

A cord prolapse is when the umbilical cord comes through the cervix before the baby. It is serious because the cord can then become trapped against the baby’s body as they come through the birth canal or the blood vessels can go into spasm, reducing oxygen to the baby.

Coroner

A coroner is usually a lawyer, who investigates deaths in certain circumstances.

Fetal growth restriction (FGR) or intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)

If a baby’s growth slows or stops inside the womb, it’s known as fetal growth restriction (FGR). FGR can put babies at risk of stillbirth. If detected soon enough, there is a chance that this can be treated. We have more information about fetal growth restriction (FGR).  

Fetal movement

This is the movement of a baby in the womb. You might feel this movement initially as bubbles, which change to gentle rolls, or kicks when the baby is bigger. Reduced movements can be an early indicator that a baby isn’t well and should be reported immediately to the hospital. Read more about monitoring your baby's pattern of movements.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. Sometimes you can manage it by eating a healthy, balanced diet, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. Others may need to take medication. We have lots of information about gestational diabetes.

Group B streptococcus (GBS)

Group B Streptococcus is a bacterium that can cause serious illness in people of all ages. It can be particularly severe in newborn babies but can be prevented with antibiotics given to the mother during labour. You can read more about Group B Strep (Strep B)

Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) or obstetric cholestasis (OC)

Obstetric cholestasis is a liver condition that can develop during pregnancy, caused by a build-up of bile acids and other substances in the liver, which then ‘leak’ into the mum/birthing person’s bloodstream. You can read more about obstetric cholestasis.

Intrapartum stillbirth

Intrapartum stillbirth is the term for when the baby dies after labour begins.

Large for gestational age (LGA)

Babies that are ‘large for gestational age’ means babies that are born over the 90th percentile. This means that the baby weighs more than 90% of babies born at the same gestational age in the population. We have more information for anyone worried about having a big baby

Medical examiner

A medical examiner is a senior doctor who may investigate deaths that are not investigated by the coroner. They are trained in the legal and clinical elements of death certification processes. 

Midwife

A midwife is a medical professional who provides care and support to pregnant women/birthing people and their families while pregnant, throughout labour and during the postpartum period after a baby’s birth. Read more about what midwives do

Miscarriage

Miscarriage is the loss of a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy. An early miscarriage happens in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, while a late miscarriage occurs between weeks 12 to 24 of pregnancy. We have lots of information about miscarriage.  

MBRRACE-UK

MBRRACE-UK stands for Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK. It is a national audit programme and is commissioned by all UK governments to collect information about all late fetal losses, stillbirths, neonatal deaths and maternal deaths across the UK. The programme tracks information about where and why babies and mothers die every year. 

Mortuary

The hospital mortuary is the part of the hospital where bodies are kept after death.

Mortuary technician

The mortuary technician is the person who looks after bodies when they come to the mortuary. They work closely with funeral directors, the coroner and the pathologist.

Neonatal death

A neonatal death is when a baby dies during the first 28 days of life. This is usually split into early neonatal deaths which happen in the first 7 days after birth and late neonatal deaths which happen between 8 and 28 days. 

Obstetrician

An obstetrician is a doctor who specialises in the birth mother’s care during pregnancy, labour and after birth.

Obstetrics and gynaecology

Obstetrics and gynaecology is the area of medicine that manages the care of women’s reproductive health, her unborn baby and conditions specific to women.

Paediatrician and Neonatalogist

A paediatrician specialises in the care of babies and children. A neonatologist specialises in newborn babies and works in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

Paediatrics

Paediatrics is the term for the area of medicine that manages conditions affecting babies, children and young people.

Pathologist

The pathologist is the doctor who specialises in the causes of death and disease. They also carry out post-mortems.

Perinatal Mortality Review Tool (PMRT)

The national Perinatal Mortality Review Tool is a standardised review tool to help provide answers for bereaved parents about why their baby died. It was designed with user and parent involvement to support high-quality standardised perinatal reviews on the principle of 'review once, review well'.

Placenta

The placenta and the umbilical cord link your baby to your body in the womb. The placenta is an organ attached to the wall of your womb linked to your baby by their umbilical cord. The placenta is your baby’s support system, processing their nutrients, waste and oxygen. After you give birth, the placenta comes away from the womb and comes through the vagina. Sometimes the placenta can get stuck, this is known as a retained placenta..

Placental abruption

Placental abruption is when the placenta comes away from the inside of the womb wall before the baby has been born. It is an emergency because your baby needs the placenta to keep them growing and healthy. Read more about placental abruption.

Post-mortem

A post-mortem is the examination of a body after death. It’s also known as an autopsy. It can help determine the cause of death. There are different types of post-mortems. We have more information about having a post-mortem after a stillbirth

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition affecting people who have suffered severe emotional trauma.

Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that can affect some pregnant people, typically after 20 weeks. Raised blood pressure (hypertension) combined with protein in your urine (proteinuria) can cause a number of symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, swelling and problems with vision.

Premature birth

A premature birth, also known as a pre-term birth, is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. This can mean that the baby might not be fully developed and might need special care. 

Small-for-gestational age (SGA)

A small-for-gestational age (SGA) baby is a baby that is constitutionally small but is still growing at a normal rate and no abnormalities can be found. This differs from growth restriction where the baby has slow or static growth. 

Sonographer or midwife sonographer

A sonographer is trained to carry out ultrasound examinations. Midwife sonographers are trained midwives and sonographers.

Ultrasound scan (or sonogram)

High-frequency sound waves create an image of the inside of your womb. An ultrasound can be used to monitor a baby, make a diagnosis or help a surgeon during an operation. An external ultrasound involves moving a probe over your abdomen area to detect the sound waves, which are shown on a screen. An internal scan or transvaginal scan (TVS) is when the probe is placed inside your body, for example the vagina. Read more about ultrasounds.

Review dates
Reviewed: 11 February 2022 | Next review: 11 February 2025