In humans, the average period for gestation is between eight and ten months. The exceptions to this occur in cases where the fetuses are delivered prematurely and encounter problems like underdeveloped organs which include the lungs and brain, as well as weak immune systems.
At the other end of the spectrum, babies that are overdue also are at risk of developing infections from the amniotic fluid that they sit in. However, in most situations, mothers either spontaneously go into labour or have to be induced in order to deliver the baby safely.
In some rare, but not unheard of circumstances, the fetus is not medically able to survive its full term of gestation and dies in utero. In this instance, doctors usually recommend that patients have the dead fetus as well as other sustaining structures removed and cleaned out of the womb. If the fetus is not removed from the womb or location of implantation, it may be marked as foreign and harmful to the mother’s body.
As a result, the host seeks to protect itself by continuously coating the mass in calcium so as to shield it off from the mother. In this way, all tissue and other material are kept encapsulated and cannot infiltrate the body of the mother. The end result of the calcification of the mass is a lithopaedion or common known as a stone baby.
The lithopaedion is usually common in pregnancies with abnormalities such as ectopic pregnancies in which the fetus is attached somewhere other than the uterus. The world’s longest known case of lithopaedia is that of a Chinese woman by the name of Huang Yijun.
Born is 1917, Yijun came from a poor working province in Southern China and in 1948, at the age of 31, she became pregnant. Tragically however, the baby died before coming to full term and Yijun who had been advised by doctors to have the baby removed was too poor to afford the procedure hence, she allowed the dead fetus to remain in her abdomen.
Overtime, Yijun’s body, which could not reabsorb the fetus, began layering the mass with calcium forming a functional barrier between her system and the dead fetus’s. This went on for a whopping 60 years as Yijun experienced no obvious side effects besides her enlarged belly; it was only the new development of pain which became unbearable which lead to her decision to have her 60 year old fetus removed in 2008.
Studies estimate that there have only been 300 reported and documented cases of lithopedion in the world. This is a direct correlation between the facts that lithopedion occur in cases of gestational abnormalities which occur 1 in 11,000 pregnancies and out of those abnormalities only 1.5% to 1.8% develop into lithopedion. Luckily however, modern day advances and healthcare provisions and systems have made essential services such as screening and prenatal and post-natal checks more available, accessible and affordable for women in many parts of the world who would not have it otherwise.