Stillbirth Or Miscarriage: What's The Difference, Why Not To Confuse The Two, And If I Should Use The Term 'Stillbirth?'

March 26, 2017

By Sanda Rathamone



Whether intentional or unintentional, it hurts to hear others mistaken our stillbirth as a miscarriage. Automatically, I feel offended and want to correct them, because there are huge differences between the two. I am not stating that one is more tragic than the other, but that there are key experiences that individualize these terms. 

I did some online searching and what I found was very confusing. Some say that a stillbirth happens after 28 weeks of gestation, whereas others consider stillbirths at 24, or 20 weeks. A stillbirth is when a baby passes in the womb and has to be delivered. 

Babies that are lost before those gestational weeks are termed as a miscarriage. Miscarriages are when the body naturally expels the baby early on in the pregnancy. (Definitions may vary according to location.) There is also an option for women to surgically remove "abnormal" fetal tissue that can cause infection or other complications by a Dilation and Curettage procedure (D&C). 

Some common causes of stillbirths are incompetent cervix, cord wrapping, low fetal activity, loss of heartbeat, etc. Some common causes of miscarriages are abnormalities, chromosomal or developmental problems, medical conditions of the mother, etc. The list goes on since there are numerous possibilities. In many other cases, there are NO known causes - losses can be spontaneous. 

Though I did not go through a miscarriage, I do not want to discourage compassion for families who have lost through miscarriages. 

A loss very early on is tough, especially if couples are trying to conceive. From the moment we find out that we are pregnant, this changes our lives. We start imagining what it would be like to raise this child, what this child would look like, and who would this child become.

Hearing the news of and experiencing unexpected pregnancy loss changes our lives in another, more painful way. We lose all of our hopes and dreams. In whichever stage or development, we lost a life that could have been. In essence, it is the love we could not give that should be acknowledged.

In rare cases such as ours, Elijah's death was neither a stillbirth nor miscarriage. My doctors primarily diagnosed our loss as Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (PPROM) and secondly as a "stillbirth, chorioamnionitis, and positive blood culture." Our case was termed a "rupture" or a breaking of the sac.

There were no signs of complications during those 20 weeks and my cervix was closed, meaning that my body was not prepared to go into labor, nor did I have an Incompetent Cervix. 

The cause of the rupture could have been an infection found in a positive blood culture, which looked similar to meningitis, but was actually termed some other rare infection. It was not known if I had contracted this infection before or after the rupture (or not at all, it could have been a contamination) because of starting antibiotics before showing any signs of infection (the uterus is in high risk of  infection after amniotic fluid loss). This was not a definitive cause as only 1 out of 3 blood cultures showed this infection. I also had no signs of illness or symptomatic behaviors.

One of my doctors also went as far as suggesting that the cause could just be that the sac was not strong enough to hold the baby or the amniotic fluid and could have reached a "breaking point."

Nevertheless, how do I describe our loss? A stillbirth or miscarriage?

Elijah still had a heartbeat up until birth, he did not die in the womb. His heart rate increased over the past few days after the rupture. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to see if he took his first or last breath.

In our case, it seems as if we are in the middle. 

However, personally, I will use the term "stillbirth" because I feel as though I can relate more to those who have experienced something very similar. Understand that I will only describe key and personal experiences of stillbirth, and not miscarriages.


pc: nehabe

  • Reaching the halfway mark into the pregnancy. 
  • Gender reveal and naming days before stillbirth. 
  • Having a total of four ultrasounds up until 20 weeks. 
  • Experiencing a growing uterus/belly.
  • Labor, contractions, and delivery. I was induced and had a natural birth (non-surgical).
  • Elijah was not the size of a newborn; he was a fully formed "fetus" at 10 inches long.
  • He had a small head (bigger than the size of a golf ball), facial features, separated fingers and toes with nails, long limbs, underdeveloped lungs, visible bones, penis and testes. 
  • Placenta was equal to a medium-sized bowl. 
  • Milk production began shortly after birth.* 
  • Having to decide funeral/burial arrangements.*

Some of our experiences can coincide with the experience of a miscarriage, however, the major difference is birth and death in earlier/later stages, which plays a role in certain grief experiences after loss. 

Join the conversation!

  1. Sorry for your loss,you are right there is a difference but a loss is a lost. My son King passed 7/5/2014 delivered him by way of cesarean section at 36 weeks +2 days stillborn. Sending virtual hugs from California. Please visit facebook page: foreverking2014 to view my journey as well.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and leaving your comment. I appreciate your support. Returning the love and hugs and also just joined your group! My son is a friend of yours in heaven.

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  2. Savannah's Mother @ambitiousgrl321May 12, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    Thank you for being so strong! Your strength gives me encouragement to start blogging my story as well. I completely agree with your views on stillbirth vs miscarriage. Savannah received her wings on October 21, 2016 @ 22 weeks and 3 days born perfect. I'm glad to know that I wasn't the only one who was offended when others would say I had a misscarriage when I actually experienced a still birth much similar to what you described except I had anincompetent cerivix and went through the process of getting a rescue cerclage at 5mths. I experience the entire labor process contractions delivery and all. So I completely understand where your coming from. This is not to denote the fact that miscarriage is a major loss as well as stillbirth but the fact that people jump to conclusions and place your situation in category without even asking of being sensitive enough to recognize the differences.
    Thanks for sharing

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  3. Thank YOU for stopping by and taking the time to read my blog. I notice that you are from my Instagram page and it is always nice to meet and hear the story of a fellow bereaved mother. I am so sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your angel, Savannah. Her name is beautiful! May she enjoy playing in heaven with my angel and many others.

    It's helpful to know that you know what was the cause of your loss, as for me, it's still such a mystery. However, yes, I am glad to hear that you understood why I wrote this particular blog and that you stand by me. Much love and healing.

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  4. I am also happy to know that you are considering starting your own blog! I will most definitely support you on your blogging journey as it is my hope that we continue to raise awareness about our loss and experience.

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