The thought of losing a baby during pregnancy can be an overwhelming fear, however we hope that by your increasing knowledge and awareness you may feel better equipped to discuss possible stillbirth risks with your doctor or other health professional.
Can Stillbirth be prevented?
It is still unclear whether stillbirth can be prevented. However, there are some things women can do to try and ensure the best possible outcome for the baby. These steps can be taken from before the baby is conceived up until labour.
How can I ensure the best possible outcome for baby?
We urge all mothers to stay healthy during pregnancy to avoid possible complications for their unborn child. This includes implementing common-sense measures such as managing weight, and avoiding alcohol, smoking and drug-taking during pregnancy.
Some other potential measures, as outlined in a recent series on stillbirth published in leading medical journal The Lancet are:
Ensuring a healthy lifestyle and adequate folic acid intake prior to conception
Attending all regular antenatal appointments
Having an ultrasound in early pregnancy
Screening for fetal growth restriction and pregnancy risks
Supplementing a healthy diet with folic acid, iron, calcium and vitamin supplements
Management of diabetes and hypertension prior to conception and during pregnancy
Inducing post-term pregnancies as well as consideration of planned caesareans for babies in breech presentation
Monitoring baby movement through kick counting, especially in the third trimester.
Unfortunately, in some cases the reason for a baby being stillborn during an otherwise healthy pregnancy may never be known. We are still unclear on all the reasons why stillbirth can occur, which is why more research is needed to determine what other factors may be involved to help predict and prevent stillbirth.
Some potential risk factors may be:
Advanced maternal age (considered to be over 35 years)
Smoking, drug-taking, and alcohol consumption
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Premature birth (babies that are too immature may be stillborn)
If any of the above factors do apply to you, we strongly recommend that you meet with your obstetrician and discuss how you can be monitored carefully during your pregnancy, and if having labour induced earlier is something to consider.
Ongoing Placenta Research
Another important area of prediction and prevention of stillbirth is currently being investigated by the University of Melbourne. A blood test is being developed which may enable practitioners to identify placentas which are not functioning at an optimum level.
If a placenta is not functioning properly, blood and nutrient flow to the fetus will be limited and may ultimately cause stillbirth as the otherwise healthy baby will not be nourished as it should be. If this test is successfully developed, it will ultimately be able to predict early in the pregnancy those babies who will be at risk of being stillborn. As a result, the mother and baby will be monitored more closely and, in all likelihood, the baby will be delivered earlier to avoid this tragic outcome.
Counting the Kicks
A myth which has recently been debunked by a Stillbirth Foundation-funded study regards fetal movement monitoring. It was believed that babies ‘slow down’ in late pregnancy in preparation for birth. However, evidence demonstrates that the baby should still be active. They have less room to move, particularly at the end of a pregnancy, but their movements, their kicks in particular, should still be strong and regular. Few movements or even none at all may actually be a sign of distress and not a conservation of energy in preparation for birth.
Still Aware has produced a video on how to count kick throughout your third trimester: