What causes stillbirth and when is it investigated?

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11 October, 2022

Leonie Millard

What is a stillbirth?

A still birth occurs when a baby dies after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is a very traumatic experience and can have lifelong impact on the parents, and in particular the mother who may have gone through labour, or received a caesarean section.

What causes a stillbirth?

Stillbirth can happen for a number of reasons. However, there are occasions when more could have been done by professionals to save the life of the baby.

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) carry out maternity investigations into the death of all term babies (at least 37 weeks of gestation) born following labour who have one of the following outcomes;

  • Intrapartum stillbirth: where the baby was thought to be alive at the start of labour but was born with no signs of life.
  • Early neonatal death: when the baby died within the first week of life (0-6 days) of any cause.
  • Severe brain injury diagnosed in the first seven day of life, when the baby;
    • Was diagnosed with grade iii hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE) or;
    • Was therapeutically cooled (active cooling only);
    • Had decreased central tone and was comatosed and had seizures of any kind.
  • Maternal death; death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of the pregnancy, from problems caused by the pregnancy, but not unrelated from accidental or incidental causes.

The role of the HSIB is to investigate without attributing blame or liability with a view to improving patient safety and learning. It often helps families to understand what has happened and why, and can flag up potential issues for expectant mother's in future pregnancies. The outcome of the investigation will not lead to compensation, but is a document that may assist a solicitor in assessing the merit of any potential claim.

Sadly, there is no investigation of this nature between 24 and 37 weeks.

When can I make a stillbirth claim?

For stillbirths, the timeframe for bringing a claim is 3 years from the date of the death of the infant. If you think you may want to claim, it is best to do so as soon as you feel ready, while the circumstances are relatively fresh in your mind.

How can making a claim help you move forward?

A successful claim can give you access to funding for treatment to help you with your recovery. It may be that you have lost trust and faith in the hospital where the negligence occurred and a prompt, private provider can assist.

It can also be used to cover funeral costs or any other expenses that may be involved.

We can help you with receiving an official apology and most importantly your claim may lead to improvements in medical processes to make sure the same mistakes are not repeated.

The parents are entitled to a statutory bereavement award.

If you have had difficulty in conceiving the possibility of IVF can be explored.

It is likely to lead to a much more proactive and reassuring approach to your next pregnancy.

If you would like to receive free legal advice after a still birth. Please contact Leonie Millard in our Medical Negligence department by emailing Leonie Millard or by phoning 01254770517.

For more information contact Leonie Millard in our Clinical Negligence department via email or phone on 01254 770517. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Clinical Negligence department here

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