Stillbirth symptoms and risks

Many women who suffer a stillbirth don't notice any changes and there is nothing that can be done to save their baby. However, there are some things that you should look for during your pregnancy.

Baby movements in the womb

You will probably start to feel the movements of your baby in the womb somewhere between 16 and 22 weeks. As the weeks go on you may become aware of a particular pattern of movement that is familiar to you.

Your baby may move more in the evenings when you are resting or before you go to sleep at night. You may also find certain activities such as a bath, putting your feet up and resting on the sofa or eating and drinking seem to cause your baby to move more.

The movements normally become regular by 26 weeks. Recognising these patterns of movement can be very useful during your pregnancy.

If a baby is having problems in the womb they are likely to move less to conserve energy. Noticing when this happens and contacting your hospital immediately can make the difference between life and death.

If there is a definite change in your baby’s movements 

If you notice a change or reduction in your baby's movements you should contact your midwife or your maternity unit immediately - do not wait until next day.

If you think there might be a change in your baby’s movements 

It is better to be safe than sorry so if you have any doubt, call your maternity ward. Trust your instincts.

Who will I talk to if I report a change in my baby's movements?

Unless you have been given alternative numbers to ring during your pregnancy, the best place to ring is usually the labour ward. The labour ward is not only available for women in labour but also for emergencies during the pregnancy. The ward should be open 24 hours a day and there should always be a midwife there who will be able to discuss with you what you are experiencing and advise you.

What will happen if I go in to hospital?

Once at the hospital they will probably check your health and listen to the baby’s heartbeat. They may attach you to a heart rate monitor which records a trace of the baby’s heartbeat so this can be looked at for any signs of problems. You may also be given a button to push every time you feel the baby move and this can also be seen on the print out of the baby’s heartbeat.

It's quite common that once you lie down, hear the baby’s heartbeat and relax you start to feel the baby kicking a lot. Don’t feel embarrassed about this - midwives see this everyday. It is far better to go and be checked so that any potential problems can be picked up. Read more about what will happen when you report reduced fetal movements here.

Leaking fluid / vaginal discharge in pregnancy

If you experience any leaking of fluid from your vagina during your pregnancy you should contact the hospital immediately and go to be monitored. It could be your waters breaking early or a sign of infection of the womb.

Waters breaking early in pregnancy

Waters can break at anytime during pregnancy, not just in the last couple of weeks, and this can lead to premature birth. If you feel a gush or trickle of fluid, or feel damp, it could be a sign that your waters have broken. In these cases put on a clean sanitary towel (not a tampon) and call the labour ward. They may ask you to sniff the pad – as it is common to leak urine in pregnancy - or they may ask you to check the pad again in around 20 minutes to see if it is damp.

Amniotic fluid – the fluid from around the baby – smells different to urine and is usually clear, pinkish or can be green or brown. If you believe it is amniotic fluid it is important to go straight to the hospital to be examined. You may be asked to wear a special panty liner for up to 12 hours to confirm if you are leaking amniotic fluid, and you may need an internal examination (inside the vagina) to look for signs that your cervix is opening or softening for labour.

Infection in pregnancy

You should report any discharge from your vagina which is smelly, and any colour other than white, as it may be a sign of an intrauterine infection. Infections can weaken the bag of membranes around the baby, cause an infection inside the womb or make your  waters break.

If you experience an unusual discharge contact your midwife, GP or hospital and ask for a swab to be taken to look for infection.

Diabetes in pregnancy

For women with diabetes in pregnancy, miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, preterm labour, stillbirth and problems with the baby (whilst in the womb, at delivery and after the birth) are sadly more common. This means that good control of your blood sugar levels and regular monitoring are vital.

Whether you had diabetes already, or develop diabetes during pregnancy (known as gestational diabetes), you will need to be closely monitored, and you will need to be aware of how best to care for yourself and your baby during your pregnancy.

What to do in you have diabetes in pregnancy

If you already had type 1 or 2 diabetes before pregnancy you should get good pre-pregnancy counselling and support before stopping contraception and trying for a baby. 

If you are pregnant with diabetes you will probably be regularly seen by a consultant and a specialist diabetes midwife. If you are not happy with the care you are receiving talk to the women's health department manager to ask that your condition be correctly monitored. Make sure that you attend all your scheduled appointments and seek help immediately from your GP, midwife or hospital doctors if you are concerned about your glycaemic control or any other factors affecting either your pregnancy or your diabetes.

Monitoring the growth and movements of your baby is more important than in other pregnancies, so make sure you are clear as to who you should contact if you are concerned. Do not wait until next day, you can contact the labour ward to speak to a midwife outside working hours.

If you have any of the risk factors for developing gestational diabetes, including having a BMI of 30 or over, make sure you are tested between weeks 24 and 28, as recommended by NICE.

Read more about gestational diabetes here.

Read more about type 1 or 2 diabetes and pregnancy here.

Pre-eclampsia and stillbirth

Pre-eclampsia is a condition which affects around 10% of all pregnancies in the UK, and untreated, can cause stillbirth. You are most likely to get it in your first pregnancy or a subsequent pregnancy with a new partner. The main symptom is high blood pressure. It is very important that you attend all your antenatal appointments, as pre-eclampsia is one of the pregnancy conditions that your midwife will be looking out for.

If during your pregnancy you are told that your blood pressure has increased since the beginning of the pregnancy ask your midwife how significant the rise is. Your midwife will also be looking for any protein in your urine so always provide a urine sample at every appointment. If you refuse to give a sample the midwife cannot pressure you to give one, but it could mean a vital clue is missed.

What to do if you think you might have pre-eclampsia

Between appointments look out for any of the warning signs of pre-eclampsia, including severe headaches, altered vision such as seeing flashing lights in front of your eyes, and sudden swelling, particularly of your feet, ankles, hands and face.

Some women also experience pain in their upper abdomen, just below the ribs. If you notice any of these signs you should contact your GP, midwife or labour ward for advice. Do not wait until your next scheduled appointment and ensure that you are seen by someone the same day.

Read more about pre-eclampsia here

Working with your medical team in pregnancy

  1. It is important that any concerns you have, or things that you notice, are taken seriously. Trust your instincts and report all complications, no matter how insignificant they may seem.
  2. Try to get to know the team of midwives that are caring for you during your pregnancy. Even if you meet a new midwife at every appointment aim to use every appointment to your best advantage.
  3. If you have a BMI of 30 or over make sure you get a test for diabetes. It is recommended by NICE and should happen between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy. If you are not offered this test ask why.
  4. Ask about the size of your baby – if it is particularly large or small do you need further scans?
  5. If your blood pressure is raised do they think it could be the start of pre-eclampsia – do you need more appointments to monitor this?
  6. Report any unusual symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision (seeing stars), any pains, any aches, nosebleeds, feeling dizzy or faint.
  7. Itching is particularly important as it can be a sign of obstetric cholestasis, a liver condition in pregnancy. A common symptom of this condition is itching of the hands and soles of the feet, but you should report all itching. A simple blood test can be used to diagnose this.
  8. If you have a scan or blood test and there seems to be a problem that needs closer monitoring make sure you know as much as you can about the condition they are looking at. If you haven’t been referred to a consultant yet, ask to see whichever consultant specialises in the problems that have been identified. Make sure you know any symptoms to look out for and what to do in the event of experiencing any of them.
  9. Early in your pregnancy ask your midwife who you should contact if you have any other symptoms or concerns between appointments. Never leave a worrying symptom till your next appointment. Contact your GP, midwife or hospital and ask to be seen.

Read more about stillbirth statistics here.

Last reviewed on April 1st, 2014. Next review date April 1st, 2017.

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Comments

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 May 2017 - 19:20

    I'm 37 weeks tomorrow, yesterday I felt him move but it felt like somebody had fallen down the stairs in my belly. I feel like his movements have changed but my partner says everything is fine because he has felt him moving. I feel like his movements are different and not as strong. My bump also looks smaller and my belly button which was starting to come out is now going back in. What should I do???

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 26 May 2017 - 10:26

    Thank you for your comment.
    You are right to be concerned about any changes in your baby's movements. I would advise you to contact your maternity unit asap to discuss the changes-they may ask you to come to hospital to have the baby's heartbeat checked and to assess that you are otherwise well.
    Many women notice a change in their bump as they get closer to their due date-the baby's head (or more rarely bottom if breech position) starts to engage and this can feel like the baby is getting lower down in the abdomen
    I have attached 2 links that may be helpful
    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/symptom-checker/my-babys-movements-have-slowed-down
    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/labour-birth/4-ways-your-body-gets-ready-labour
    Hope this helps
    Please contact us or call our helpline 0800 0147 800 for further advice
    Take care
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 May 2017 - 16:21

    Hello,
    thank you for getting in touch I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your baby and now the difficulty you are having getting pregnant again.
    Are you able to go and see your GP to discuss this. Dependant on time the GP will be able to do some blood tests and refer you for more investigations.
    If you would like to talk this through in more detail we would love to hear from you on 0800 0147 800 out PregnancyLine is a free, confidential service staffed weekdays 9-5.
    Warmest regards
    Tommy's Midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 9 May 2017 - 08:18

    I lost my pregnancy in nine month and now I can't have kids can that be the source I have a 12years boy before I lost the second one what must I do to find out whether I still have children or what

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 20 Apr 2017 - 12:47

    I lost my beautiful baby girl at 35 weeks. She was born sleeping on December 10th 2016. The pain is unreal. I miss her ever single moment of every single day.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 20 Apr 2017 - 14:54

    Thank you for having the strength to write those words. I hope that you find some peace through sharing your own experience and from reading about others. Remember that we are here to talk if you need to 0800 0147 800. A midwife is here to take your call Monday to Friday 9-5pm

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 8 Apr 2017 - 17:03

    I can really relate to everything ..said here .. I had my baby girl last year february 38 weeks still birth .. i went to hospital as i was feeling labour pain i called my dr she said yes u r in labour come to hospital .. i took bath and left for hospital when i reached there the dr. in ER she checked me ultrasound and everything and she said everything is fine u r not fully dialated go home and come back later ...
    i was about to go home but one of my friend doctor she said i will check u also she started ctg and and checked me and said we will moniter heartbeat before u go then she left leaving me with other dr. in ER after 10 mins they couldn't find the heartbeat ,, they did ultrasound and checked but everything was gone .. i was left alone ... i can't explain what i felt tht day ... nothing worst then this can happen to someone ....
    i don't know who to blame about this .. as i felt my baby's movemnet just half hour before ... this happened and then suddenly all was taken away from me .. i was in labour for 12 hours was induced and gave birth to my beautiful baby girl ..
    i cannot forget her face .. i love her so much tht i cant stop thinking about her ...
    i feel there is nothing that i can do to stop thinking about her ..
    i planned so much for her with her with my small family .. that was my first ....
    and sometimes i feel its very hard to find another like her .. she was exactly like me even her hair .. her hands ... her feet .. her colour everything ...
    I just can't explain what i felt that day and how i feel today ............ i just can't let go of her ...
    i have a lot of things for her that i made for her and bought for her and was excited to see her in those clothes and mittens and cap ... and frocks and shoes .. and blanket and pillow ..
    i just can't let it go .....
    i just can't help thinking ****what if ****
    I JUST WANA TELL .... WHATEVER WE DO ... HOWEVER WE LIVE ... I LOVE U MY baby girl and I miss u every single momnt of my life ....
    i hope i can get through this /..... one day

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Apr 2017 - 09:16

    Hi Hana, I am really so sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter. Thank you for sharing your story with us all, we really appreciate it and so too will many other women and their families.
    Please take good care of yourself!

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 8 Apr 2017 - 00:28

    I had planned to have a home water birth. The midwife was happy with my health and baby's heartbeat was always strong every time she checks it. I was 42 weeks and 11 days over due with my first child and the midwife was still happy to procede with the home birth. I always ask questions every time I have an appointment because I was beginning to get worried myself. On the 13th of March 2017, I went into labour and my contractions were every 1-2 minutes. It came so quickly and I my cervix wasn't dilating . As it was a planned home birth, the midwife came out but few minutes later she said she have to go back to the hospital as she can't confirm am in Labour as I was only 1cm dilated and she left. The contractions continued and we had another midwife out, at this time I was 3cm dilated and she said she can't accertain labour she also left. My husband rang the labour ward and told then about the pain I was going through and then they said to come into hospital for strong pain relief and then to return home for the birth. By the time we got to the hospital, they checked for baby's heartbeat but they couldn't find it.
    At that point my whole world just crumbled in front of me. The worse labour for me was not the physical pain but the emotional pain. Knowing that am putting so much effort to get my baby out but I can't hear her cry .
    At 15:43pm, my little princess Della was born sleeping. She looked so perfect with long hair. She weigh 7pounds 1oz. I miss her everyday and I wish I can turn back the hand of time so I can change everything and have her here with me.
    Sleep on baby Della, mummy & daddy loves u and will always be in our hearts. We miss u child.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Apr 2017 - 09:25

    I am ever so sorry to hear about the passing of your daughter whilst you were in labour. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult that must have been for you and your husband. If you haven't already done so, you can arrange to speak with a senior midwife (supervisor of midwives or consultant midwife) to go through your notes and history to try to understand more fully, why this may have happened in order for you to be able to process your grief. Please ensure that you are well supported by your family and friends and go to your GP if you feel that some counselling might be helpful to you, they can refer you to the local services.
    Please look after yourself at this difficult time.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 26 Feb 2017 - 20:39

    I had a still baby girl her name was leah i went for a check up at 35 weeks and there told me they wasnt a heart beat i some pain a day before but i didnt get it check out i wish idid now it been 8 years now i have 3 more daughters now but i still think about leah everday wondering what she would of look like i missing u my baby girl leah

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 27 Feb 2017 - 10:30

    Hi Samantha
    I am ever so sorry to hear about your daughter Leah. She will always be in your heart and mind, and be your three daughters' big sister.
    Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    Take care of yourself

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 28 Jan 2017 - 08:56

    I gave birth to our beautiful son on 21st January 2017. I'd noticed he hadn't been moving for a few hours but I was busy chasing around after my toddler. I had a bath, rested on my left side, ate an ice cream! Still nothing. That evening contractions statered. On arrival at the hospital there was no heartbeat. I should have called and gone and got checked. I know given my situation as the cause was my placenta ruptured with not symptoms, that it may not have saved him but I'm living with a huge "what if"? I was faced with labour to a dead baby, the hardest moments of my life. I kept thinking I can't do this, please someone take him out and take him away. I went on to labour him naturally, a beautiful experience, the least I could do for my son. The pain of labour was nothing compared to the pain in my heart and in a way at least I got to share that with him. I held him in my arms and we spent the day with him. I regret not kissing his little face but he was part of me and will know he was truly loved.

    I will never ignore the smallest of signs that there may be a problem ever again and now will carry that "what if", for the rest of my life.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 30 Jan 2017 - 10:00

    I am ever so sorry to hear about the passing of your beautiful baby boy on 21st Jan 2017! I cannot begin to imagine how difficult that was for you.
    Every family that has had a stillborn baby, will feel guilt within their cycle of grief. Justified or not, it is a normal process and emotion to feel. A ruptured placenta cannot be caused by anything that you did - so please do not think that you could have prevented this.
    I do not want to go into too much detail in such a public place, so please call us on 0800 0147800 if you wish to speak to one of us on the midwifery team. We aren't counselors, but are trained in Bereavement support and care and can offer a friendly ear at the very least.
    Thinking of you at this difficult time!

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 Feb 2017 - 10:55

    Yeah i can well understand ur feeling same here with me i also lost my Son on 6th jan 2017..The start of this year 2017 is very painful for me and i have to bear this pain till my last breath lossing a child is unbearable..

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 16 Feb 2017 - 15:20

    Thank you for sharing this. There is support to help you here at Tommy's. If you would like to call us there is a midwife here Monday to Friday 9-5pm 0800 0147 800. best wishes

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 4 Apr 2017 - 20:18

    Evan is my beautiful grandson. He is my daughter's second child. Evan was born still at 37weeks on the 16th January, 2016. Weighing 6lbs. We share our birthday.
    My lovely daughter awoke on 13th January having not felt our boy move overnight. She had an appointment arranged for that morning with her midwife. The midwife could not hear Evan's heart beat so sent my precious girl for a scan, where she and her husband learned that Evan's heart had stopped beating.
    There was no explanation as to what had happened., up to this point the pregnancy had progressed as text book and a home water birth was planned.
    My girl and her husband spent Wednesday night through to early hours of Saturday morning at the hospital where Evan was born.
    I will always remember her calm tone when she phoned to say out boy had arrived.
    'He's here mammy', she said. 'He is beautiful. He looks perfect, mammy'.
    My 7 year old granddaughter lay sleeping next to me, oblivious to the devastation that would soon face.
    I couldn't ask the normal questions. I couldn't comfort my girl. On the 5min journey to her home I tried to work out what to say. My granddaughter said 'be strong nanna, my mammy needs us'. Doesn't that just prove what a wonderful mother my girl is? So why did this happen to her? She did nothing to cause this devastating heartbreak. Throughout she had been dignified and controlled and strong and calm and a wonderful mammy.
    Ten days following Evan's birth was his funeral. A private ceremony, mammy daddy, big sister, grandparents and aunts and uncle. Evan was carried by his mammy and his mammy was carried by his daddy. A little wreath of beautiful, delicate blue flowers were placed on his tiny white coffin.
    The vicar read a passage from the bible and a poem my daughter had chosen. The distraught parents just wanted to go straight home. I didn't know what to do, life was nothing but a blur.
    But life goes on. Differently. With someone always missing.
    All hopes and dreams were lost, and my brave, strong girl said when asked how she felt by a berievement midwife, 'empty, lost, hollow, numb, devastated'.
    But , amidst all that she had the strength to carry on for my granddaughter, taking her to school, which is my daughters work place, and face all the parents. Those who hadn't heard so asked how the baby was. Those who had heard but didn't know what to say and those who spoke with her.
    I really am unable to put into words the pride I feel for my girls.
    The first Easter came and we wandered what we would have bought Evan. Then the first Mother's Day and the first Christmas. No presents, I made a Christmas wreath for my boy. Oh so many firsts, the first time it thundered I cried like a baby invade Evan was afraid. Oh how silly it sounds.
    I remember telling my daughter that she would feel normal again one day, that she would smile again, even though she didn't feel that would ever be the case again. I said one day Evan wouldn't be the first thing you think of on waking. That this will upset her at first but it's natural and normal.
    Life just gets in the way and helps us grieve.
    One year to the day that our beautiful boy was born, his baby sister was due to arrive.
    However his sister was born by Caesarean section at 37 weeks and 2days. Weighing 6.5lbs.
    This time the call came, 'she's perfect Mam, she's so beautiful'. This time there was elation in my girls voice.
    Then came Evans first birthday. We wandered what we would do to celebrate the little baby we loved but couldn't keep. We just gazed adoringly at our little 3week old baby girl and thanked our boy for giving her to us. Crazy I know. But if Evan was here our girl wouldn't have been.
    My point is, I think, that you are hurting and the hurt will never go away, but you only hurt because you have felt love so unconditionally.
    I know it pains as though your heart has been broken, literally. Be braveand talk about your baby and your loss and about how you feel. You will find that there are so many people around you who have had similar experiences to you. Even people you have known for years will suddenly open up about their loss.
    I wish I could take away your heartache or give you comfort in some way but I know I can't . I hope it helps to know that there are people who have been through or who are going through a similar journey to you and that they understand your grief for your baby is like no other loss and you and your baby will be in my thoughts each time I think of my little Prince Charming, Evan. X

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Apr 2017 - 09:18

    No words can do justice to your story of Evan. Thank you so much for sharing your story of love for him.
    With profound thanks
    Tommy's Midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 11 Jan 2017 - 08:48

    Only two weeks before my due date I went to my regular ultrasound everything was perfect she told me, so I went home ...I got home and had a meal and noticed my baby didn't move but thought because I just came from the clinic everything was fine hours past and something didn't feel right I told my self if I eat again and he doesn't move by midnight I'll rush to the hospital welp that was the biggest mistake of my life my biggest fear came to life I got to the hospital and there was no heart beat

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 11 Jan 2017 - 12:19

    Hello thank you for sharing your story. I am so, so sorry to hear that you have lost your baby at 38 weeks of pregnancy. Please know that you are not to blame for your baby's death although part of the consuming grief you are experiencing now will mean that you are tormented with guilt and 'what ifs'
    The charity SANDS www.uk-sands.org is an essential contact for you and your Family now.
    There is also a helpline 0207 436 5881 staffed by parents who have experienced a stillbirth who really do know what you are going through now.
    We are also here for you at Tommy's in the weeks, months and years ahead either via email or to talk.
    With love at this dark time
    Tommy's Midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 12 Jan 2017 - 19:01

    I experienced a similar thing on Monday. I was 28 weeks pregnant and went in for a routine ultrasound and was told the baby did not have a heartbeat. They said the baby had just passed. They also told me that there was nothing I could have done. You can have an ultrasound one day and all be ok and then something can happen the next. I feel your pain. This has been the hardest thing in my life. So unreal. A horrible nightmare I want to wake up from.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Jan 2017 - 09:26

    We are so terribly sorry about the loss of your baby. Cannot imagine how you maybe feeling or what you are going through right now. Please look after yourself x

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 15 Dec 2016 - 17:20

    before i got pregnant i had dis feeln dat am a diabetic person,hv infectn too bt i neva go 4 test,nd low n below my baby die in my womb,pls wat can i do 4 dis silly mistake neva hapen again cos dat was my first child,

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 16 Dec 2016 - 09:42

    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your baby. Please do not blame yourself, it is not your fault. I think it would be important for you to be able to see someone to review your notes and understand if there was any reason known as to why you lost your baby, although a reason is not always found in many cases. If you are thinking about another pregnancy then you will received a different level of care which will include more scans and appointments. They will review your notes and talk to you about any further screening or testing that you may need. You can also talk about your concerns to the midwife or doctor and discuss with them any further tests that you may need. I hope this helps, if you would like to talk further then please do email midwife@tommys.org.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 12 Dec 2016 - 02:32

    Please ladies if u notice anything strange about babies movements get checked. I had a still born handsome little man 5 days ago my heart has veen ripped in 2. Do doubt it get checked and dont feel silly if u feel u need to go more than once!

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Dec 2016 - 09:53

    We are so sorry to hear about your beautiful son! Please feel free to call us on 0800 0147800 if you want the friendly ear of a midwife at all. We are not counselors, but are always happy to listen and advise where it might be wanted.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story! Reduced movements should always be checked out if you feel something is not right - you are correct - no woman should be made to feel silly or as if they are wasting the midwives time - and this is just not the case. We see many women every day across the country for reduced fetal movements - its a part of a our job, so please don't delay if you are concerned at all.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 8 Dec 2016 - 11:26

    It is difficult from your comment to see who told you your baby's heartbeat was slow . If you are concerned or if you feel your baby's movements have changed or reduced, you should go to the maternity unit to be checked out as soon as possible.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 8 Dec 2016 - 08:22

    My babys hart beat is very slower than uselly im 31 weeks and its my first time pregnant

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Jul 2016 - 15:06

    From your comment I am unsure how many weeks pregnant you are however if you have not felt your baby move or feel the baby's movements are reduced then you need to go to your maternity unit as soon as possible to be reviewed.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 29 Jul 2016 - 08:07

    Don't think so cost it's my second day nd my baby isn't kicking it's my thinkings it my tirth baby nd I don't know if it OK should I worry

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