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Fetal death and stillbirth: Incidence, etiology, and prevention

Ruth C Fretts, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Charles J Lockwood, MD, MHCM
Deputy Editor
Vanessa A Barss, MD, FACOG


The terms fetal death, fetal demise, stillbirth, and stillborn all refer to the delivery of a fetus with no signs of life. The terms will be used interchangeably in this topic review. It should be noted that parent groups prefer the term stillbirth to the other terms. The ability to call a fetal loss a stillbirth is important to parents, in part because birth and death certificates are not generated after a miscarriage. In addition, parents report they receive less grief support after a miscarriage than after a stillbirth and less acknowledgement of the death of their child.

The incidence and etiology of fetal death, as well as strategies for prevention, will be reviewed here. Diagnosis and management of fetal demise, pathological evaluation of stillborns, and parental support and counseling are discussed separately:

(See "Evaluation of stillbirth".)

(See "Fetal death and stillbirth: Maternal care".)


Overview — Terminology regarding fetal death and stillbirth is complicated and confusing for several reasons, including:


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