TUESDAY, Oct. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Dr. Alexander Heazell and his then-wife were happily getting ready for the birth of their first child in 2001. They planned to name him Jack.
But the fetus was small for its gestational age, his wife's blood pressure had shot up during the pregnancy, and at 26 weeks, she noticed the baby was no longer kicking.
Losing the baby was devastating for Heazell and his wife. The stress and grief contributed to their divorce, Heazell said. And the experience led him to alter the course of his career from general medicine to obstetrics and gynecology in the hopes of learning more about stillbirth and preventing it from happening to other couples.
"It inevitably has a profound impact on your life," Heazell said.
Stillbirth, defined as a fetus that dies after the 20th week of gestation, occurs in about one in 160 pregnancies in the United States, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Worldwide, the problem is even bigger, said Heazell, who wrote about his experience and the need for greater research and awareness about stillbirth in a recent issue of the BMJ. There are some 3 million stillbirths a year, many of them in developing countries.
Though the rate of neonatal deaths is falling, the rate of stillbirth hasn't budged. In the United Kingdom, for example, the rate has remained at 5.3 stillbirths for every 1,000 births for the last decade.
Even worse for parents is that in up to half of all stillbirths, the cause is never discovered, leaving couples to wonder what went wrong and whether it could happen again, Heazell said.
What is known is that stillbirths that occur before 32 weeks tend to result from different causes than those that occur later in pregnancy, said Dr. Alan Fleischman, medical director for the March of Dimes Foundation.
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