Australia is one of the safest countries in the world to give birth, but even then, the outcomes of all pregnancies are not equal.
Thanks to funding by The Stillbirth Foundation, we’ve discovered South Asian and African women experience stillbirth at significantly higher rates. Even with top health care, their risk of late-term stillbirth is twice that of other women.
That’s a staggering statistic and since 2012 it’s inspired my research. Why?
The fastest-growing sector of migrants into Australia is from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. With increased numbers in the system we’ve come to understand these women experience different, often shorter, pregnancies to our national average.
Even in a multicultural country like Australia, we weren’t equipped for ethnic disparities such as this. But the evidence was clear: the placentas of South Asian women reached a higher rate of maturity at an earlier date. It meant they were going into spontaneous labour a week earlier, doubling their risk of stillbirth.
Since this discovery we’ve made significant gains. We’ve altered the care our clinicians offer these South Asian and African women. The tests we apply at 41 weeks we now apply at 39 weeks. Here in Victoria, over 3000 women have been cared for under these new standards and rates of term stillbirth have halved.
The stillbirth community is global. We work with researchers in the UK and Italy and it’s very much an international alliance sharing information and resources. However it’s still chronically underfunded and most research is driven by love.
(Labor Senator) Kristina Keneally [whose daughter Caroline was stillborn in 2009] drove a Stillbirth Senate Inquiry in 2018 and has done a great job lifting the lid, getting the issue into the mainstream. Many stillbirths are preventable and it’s about time it was a public health issue instead of a taboo private tragedy.
After two decades of virtually unchanged stillbirth rates, we’re now targeting a 20% cut. The Safer Baby Bundle is a significant step. It was launched in October 2019 as a learning pack, addressing risk factors and teaching pregnant women.
All this improved understanding propels my research. We’ve built collaborations with clinicians and policy makers, shared our results with the governments and now national guidelines are changing. Instead of shrugging a stillbirth off as ‘nature’s way’ we’re now better placed than ever to investigate why it happens.
Dr Miranda Davies-Tuck, Epidemiologist