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Preventing stillbirth

Stillbirth is a tragedy for parents and families and a major unaddressed public health problem.

It has enormous impacts on parents and their wider family and friends, as well as on health care providers. The new Safer Baby initiative uses the latest research to provide pregnant women with information about how to reduce their risk of stillbirth.

The information below aims to help women understand the risk factors in five key areas where it is known that stillbirth can be prevented.

Safer Baby
Quit Smoking

Quit smoking

#Quit4Baby

Smoking in pregnancy is one of the major contributors to stillbirth.

Every puff of a cigarette has an immediate negative effect on the baby. Carbon monoxide replaces some of the oxygen in the blood, and nicotine also reduces the flow of blood through the umbilical cord.

Your health care professional will ask you about smoking, and offer you a Carbon Monoxide (CO) screening breath test to measure if you have been exposed to unsafe levels of CO from smoke or other sources, including faulty cooking and heating appliances.

Quitting at any time during pregnancy reduces the harm to your baby. However, planning to quit as early as you can means a better start in life for your baby.

Ask your healthcare professional about advice and support on how to stop smoking and available services to support quitting for you or your partner.

Download the Quit Smoking flyer
Monitoring Growth

Regularly monitoring your baby's growth

#GrowingMatters

Your healthcare professional should be regularly measuring your baby's growth during your pregnancy, to check that your baby is growing at a healthy rate.

They can measure your baby's rate of growth every time you visit, using a tape measure to monitor the baby's 'symphyseal fundal height (SFH)'. A small baby can still be growing at a healthy rate, or a large baby can be growing slowly.

Improved detection and management of growth restriction during pregnancy is a key safer baby strategy to prevent stillbirth.

Click here to watch a video on how a clinician will measure your baby's growth.
Movements

Movements matter

#MovementsMatter

Your baby's movements are one of the signs that your baby can give you that they are well.

Getting to know the pattern of your baby's movements is important - it is a way your baby can tell you that they are well. There is no set number of normal movements.

You should get to know your baby's movements and what is normal for them.

You will start to feel your baby move between weeks 16 and 24 of pregnancy, regardless of where your placenta lies, and you should feel your baby's movements right up until they are born, even during labour.

A baby's movements can be described as anything from a flutter or a kick, to a swish or a roll. If you are concerned about a change in your baby's movements, contact your midwife or doctor immediately. You are not wasting their time.

Download the Movements Matter flyer Click here to visit the Movements Matter website for more resources.
Sleep on side

Going-to-sleep on your side from 28 weeks

#SleepOnSide

Research shows that going-to-sleep on your side from 28 weeks of pregnancy can halve your risk of stillbirth, compared to going-to-sleep on your back.

After 28 weeks of pregnancy, lying on your back presses on major blood vessels which can reduce blood flow to your uterus and the oxygen supply to your baby.

You can go to sleep on either the left or the right side - either side is fine. It's normal to change position during sleep and many pregnant women wake up on their back. That's OK!

The important thing is to start every sleep lying on your side (both for daytime naps and at night). If you wake up on your back, just roll over on your side.

Download the Sleep on Side flyer
Sleep on side

Timing of birth

#LetsTalkTiming

For all pregnancies, there's an optimal time for a baby to be born. If your pregnancy is healthy and progressing without any issues, then waiting for labour to begin on its own is the ideal plan.

However, if a planned birth (by induction of labour or caesarean section) is needed, then that's ideally as close to 40 weeks as possible.

If there are health concerns that might increase your risk of stillbirth, your health care professional will discuss with you how the timing of birth might reduce risks, with your pregnancy continuing as long as it is safe for you and your baby.

Through research we're discovering that every week your baby continues to grow inside you makes a difference to their short and long term health and developmental outcomes. In the last 4 to 5 weeks of pregnancy, your baby's brain increases in weight by about 50% - that's a lot of growing.

Download the Every Week Counts Flyer
More information about stillbirth
What is the definition of stillbirth?

Stillbirth is when a baby has no signs of life after a woman's 20th week of pregnancy. Before 20 weeks it is known as a miscarriage.

How frequent is stillbirth?

In Australia, there are around 6 babies stillborn each day (affecting around 2,200 families each year). That's a rate of about 7.4 stillbirths for every 1,000 babies born or 1 in every 135 women who reach 20 weeks' of pregnancy.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and women from other disadvantaged groups, this risk is often doubled.

What is the impact on parents and families?

Parents who have had a stillborn baby face an increased risk of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal thoughts.

The community's fears and stigma around stillbirth intensifies parents' distress and often makes them feel more isolated in their grief. Research has shown that up to 50% of bereaved parents in Australia and New Zealand feel unable to talk about their stillborn baby because it makes people feel uncomfortable.

Many parents feel the death of their baby is not recognised as the same as the death of an older child and may blame themselves.

What are the causes of stillbirth?

The major causes of stillbirth in Australia are infection, maternal conditions, haemorrhage, spontaneous preterm birth, and congenital abnormality.

Around one-quarter of stillbirths remain unexplained (and up to half of stillbirths occur near full-term). The lack of a known cause adds to parents' distress, as they struggle to understand "what went wrong" and "will it happen again" in a subsequent pregnancy.

Many stillbirths are not properly investigated, resulting in possible missed diagnoses. In up to one-third of stillbirths of stillbirths, the quality of care provided is a contributing factor to the death.

Who is at greater risk of stillbirth?

Some women have a higher chance of having a stillborn baby because of their own health issues such as smoking, diabetes, hypertension, being overweight or obese. Other things which may put you at an increased risk include being over 35 years of age, having had a previous stillbirth, and being over 41 weeks' pregnant.

When the placenta isn't working properly to give the baby the nutrition it needs, or the baby isn't growing as expected, this can also put them at higher risk of stillbirth.

Recent research from around the world has also shown that women who go to sleep lying on their back (sometimes called the supine position) also have an increased risk of stillbirth in late-pregnancy.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have a higher rate of stillbirth than the rest of the population. Some other ethnicities also have a higher rate of stillbirth, including women from the Pacific Islands, Africa and South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan,Nepal, Bangladesh).