14 October 2020
Today HRH The Duchess of Cambridge visited the Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research site at Imperial College London’s Institute for Reproductive and Developmental Biology to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week and learn more about our ongoing efforts to make pregnancy safer for all. The Duchess was given a tour of the site by its director, Prof Phillip Bennett, before our chief executive Jane Brewin introduced her to families who have been supported through pregnancy after loss by our pioneering research clinics.
HRH met Tommy's experts and supporters
Obiélé and Nii-Addy Laryea lost two babies in pregnancy before coming to a Tommy’s clinic in London, where the team performed a cervical stitch operation that kept now two-year-old Tetteh-Kwei safe in the womb until he was old enough to survive. Sarah and Adam Carrick had their first son Brodie in 2015, then experienced four miscarriages in quick succession and were referred to Tommy’s, whose expert care helped bring little Ari into the world last year. Shema Tariq and her husband Ian lost their first son Altair due to a rare placenta condition, but with cutting-edge treatment from Tommy’s in Manchester they welcomed second son Faris in December 2018 and daughter Lyra in April this year.
The Duchess discussed the latest ground-breaking studies and the importance of more pregnancy research with a host of world-renowned scientists: Prof Andrew Shennan OBE who runs Tommy's Premature Birth Clinic at St Thomas’ Hospital, Prof Basky Thilaganathan who leads Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement at St George’s University Hospital, Prof Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s London Research Centre at Kings College London, and Prof Siobhan Quenby from another Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research site at the University of Warwick.
HRH also met with Tommy’s midwife Amina Hatia, who offers expert information and advice to expectant parents and those going through loss via our Pregnancy Hub, as well as Sands (stillbirth and neonatal death charity) bereavement specialist Clare Worgan, who provides training and support for healthcare professionals to help them give families the best possible care when the worst happens.
The story behind the event
Each year in the UK there are around 250,000 miscarriages and 11,000 ectopic pregnancies, while 3,000 babies are stillborn and 2,000 die shortly after birth. More than half of people surveyed ahead of Baby Loss Awareness Week said they’d been personally affected or knew someone who had, so this week is a unique opportunity for everyone to come together in remembrance and let bereaved parents know they are not alone. Candles will be lit across the world at 7pm BST on Thursday 15 October to remember all the little lives lost, and anyone can join in by sharing their candle on social media using #WaveOfLight.
Tommy’s chief executive Jane Brewin said: “Baby loss is often dismissed as ‘one of those things’ and something that ‘wasn’t meant to be’. This fatalistic attitude contributes to a failure to bring about change. Baby loss is one of the most heart-breaking things any family can experience – and one that’s endured all too frequently, but often quietly, because of this persistent stigma in society.
“Shrouding baby loss in secrecy and shame can lead to isolation for people already struggling with unimaginable grief, so this week is a crucial moment for everyone to come together in remembrance and know they are not alone. Breaking the silence is a vital step in supporting families, while our researchers continue working tirelessly to find ways of sparing others this heart-break and making pregnancy safer for all.”
Professor Phillip Bennett, director of the Institute for Reproductive and Developmental Biology and the Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research at Imperial, commented: “1 in 4 women experience miscarriage at least once in their reproductive lifetime, and most never find out why because healthcare professionals often simply don’t know; this can and must change. By finding the root causes of miscarriage, we can take steps to stop it from happening. For example, we know that around half of all early miscarriages are not due to genetic abnormalities, so there must be underlying causes that we can treat. We have a world class team here whose research will find the answers and save babies’ lives.”
Dr Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands and Chair of the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance, added: “This year during Baby Loss Awareness Week we are highlighting the isolation many people experience after pregnancy and baby loss. In the pandemic, feelings of isolation have become more widespread than ever and many people have begun to talk more openly about grief. Many of those whose baby died during the pandemic will not have been able to spend time making memories or saying goodbye to their baby in the way they would have wanted to. Now more than ever, we can all come together to let those affected by pregnancy and baby loss know they are not alone, and we are all here to support them.”
Premature birth is the biggest killer of newborn babies in the UK and much of Tommy's research is devoted to predicting and preventing this. One discovery has made a huge difference to our ability to treat women in time.
In more than half of stillbirths parents are not given a reason for their babies' death. Doctors simply do not know why it happens. This animation looks at how Tommy's researchers are finding out the causes of stillbirth and how this leads to treatments and saved lives.
Too many miscarriages are unexplained. Our research is entirely dedicated to finding out why miscarriages happen and how to prevent it in the future.
In this Q&A, we sit down and chat with with Tom Willmott, a researcher based at Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. He gives a rare insight into a novel and exciting area of pregnancy health research, known as ‘maternal microbiology’, looking at what we can learn by studying bacteria in the mouths of mums-to-be.
A recently published article, co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s Research Centre at King’s College London, suggests that certain pregnancy complications can indicate future health issues for women.
Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.
Although recruitment to some clinical trials had to be paused when coronavirus hit the UK, scientists at Tommy’s Research Centres across the UK are still hard at work, supporting women and families in our specialist clinics and sharing their latest studies with academic journals.