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 pain relief. They may administer an epidural, spinal or general anaesthetic if required.

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 properly. [LINK]

Bereavement midwife or officer

The bereavement midwife, or officer, has had special training in helping women after a pregnancy loss or stillbirth. They can talk to you about bereavement, seeing your baby, spending time creating memories with your baby and talk about support 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. Read about cervical incompetence here.

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. 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).

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, reducing oxygen to the baby.

Coroner

A coroner is usually a doctor or 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. Read more about FGR. [LINK]

Fetal movement

This is the movement of a baby in his mother’s womb. Mums sometimes 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 here.

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. Read more about Group B Strep here.

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’s bloodstream. Read more about obstetric cholestasis here

Intrapartum stillbirth

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

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 14 to 24 of pregnancy. Read more about miscarriage.

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.

Obstetrician

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

Obstetrics and gynaecology

Obstetrics and gynaecology is the area of medicine that manages the care of pregnant woman, 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, and carries out a post-mortem.

Placenta

The placenta and the umbilical cord links your baby to your body in the womb. It 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 starts to come away from the inside of the womb wall before the baby has been delivered. It is an emergency because your baby needs the placenta to keep him 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. 

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 women in pregnancy, 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.

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 stillbirth

Last reviewed on August 31st, 2017. Next review date August 31st, 2020.

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