New Research Can Help Women Understand This Tragedy Is Not Their Fault

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There is no greater tragedy a human being can experience than losing a child.

Many times when a child is lost during pregnancy, whether through miscarriage or stillbirth, parents – especially mothers – may feel there is something they could have done to “prevent” this tragic and life-changing outcome.

But researchers are now shedding light on what may contribute to the death of a child in the womb, and it may at least help women to understand that it is absolutely no one’s “fault.”

A team at Columbia University in New York City has been conducting a study on the causes of stillbirth in an effort to help counsel couples who have experienced the death of a child in the womb.

Doctors David Goldstein and Ronald Wapner believe they have identified genetic causes to many of the cases they have studied in which a child died after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The study, reported online in the New England Journal of Medicine, included genetic sequencing of nearly 250 stillborn children, using the most recent advancements in medical technology to identify gene mutations that may play a role in stillbirth.

While some stillbirths are the result of infection or preeclampsia – which often develops later in pregnancy – the findings show that 20 percent of stillbirths can be tied to chromosomal abnormalities.

Stillbirth occurs in a shocking one out of a hundred pregnancies, and there is often no explanation to ease the suffering of parents who have lost their child.

They are often left to wonder if they could have changed the outcome somehow, or whether a subsequent pregnancy will end the same way.

While genetic conditions are often discovered after birth, this is one of the first studies to examine the genetic links to stillbirths and what we can do in the future to prevent them.

The researchers uncovered changes in thirteen genes that cause the death of a child in the womb, and six of these had not previously been related to stillbirth in other medical research.

The doctors involved in the study believe that these small mutations “dramatically change or knock out essential genes and appear responsible on their own” for a child’s death in the womb, as reported in the study.

Along with previously acquired data, the study uncovered that genetic abnormalities were responsible for an additional nine percent of the stillbirths already identified in the research as having a genetic link.

The doctors involved in the study are hopeful that the research can help provide insight for parents and guide the development of advancements in medical care in the future.

Many parents who have experienced a stillbirth are hesitant to try to have another child, fearing the same devastating outcome.

But when they have the knowledge that the child developed a specific genetic abnormality not traced to the parents — and that the tragedy will likely not occur in another pregnancy — they may be encouraged to grow their family.

Some of the research studied what are referred to as “intolerant” genes – those not tied to any currently known genetic disease – and may contribute to five percent of all stillbirths.

The doctors hope the research can provide insight into developing ways to medically intervene to save these children in pregnancy – and save parents a lifetime of grief.

For now, the research has opened a door to better patient care, bereavement services and counseling for parents, and a hope for connections that may save these innocent lives in the future.