Thanks to our loyal and committed supporters we were able to fund a huge amount of pioneering research in 2015. We were also able to support more women than ever through pregnancy through our support line and new Facebook page.
Our research into causes of stillbirth
For every 200 babies born in the UK, one is stillborn. This affects more than 3,500 families. Stillbirth rates in the UK are among the worst in the developed world.
Tommy’s Manchester research centre and clinics specialise in understanding and tackling the causes of stillbirth.
Between 2010 and 2014 we reduced stillbirth by 22% in Greater Manchester where our Stillbirth Research Centre and clinics are situated.
Fewer than 10% of stillbirths at our Manchester centre are unexplained, compared to approximately 30% nationwide.
The number of people we help at our Manchester clinics has increased seven-fold from 430 to more than 3,050.
So far, rates of stillbirth in Edinburgh have reduced by 30% in the first six months of the study, compared to the previous six months.
We hope to verify that this promising result is due to the intervention.
Other key Tommy’s developments related to stillbirth:
- We have developed a vest that has sensors which can monitor an unborn baby’s heartbeat and movements over an extended period of time. We hope this will identify babies at risk sooner. We will commence clinical trials in 2016.
- Women who report that their baby is moving less than normal are at increased risk of complications - although most still go on to have a healthy pregnancy. We have developed a test which has the potential to detect 30% more high-risk pregnancies than is currently possible. We need to undergo more rigorous testing, but if it is shown to be effective it will enable us to intervene sooner to save more lives.
"In November / December I got in touch with you just after losing my daughter at 36 weeks due to a stillbirth. You signposted me to a fantastic man, Dr Alex Heazell, who talked me through our placenta pathology report. He is a brilliant person. If only every woman could witness this man’s kindness and support in their pregnancy. He is truly like no other consultant or doctor I have come across in any of my three pregnancies.
With his support in Manchester, even though I am based in the West Midlands, we ventured into a new pregnancy with hope that everything could be ok this time around. Anyway one year and 11 days after losing our daughter we welcomed her little brother. He has completed our family.
We will never forget the support from you wonderful people, and when things have calmed down with a newborn we shall endeavour to raise more money for Tommy’s to honour our daughter and all the other babies who are lost through similar circumstances. Words can’t really do justice to everything that Tommy’s has done to support us.”
Our research into causes of premature birth
In the UK, about one in 14 pregnant women gives birth prematurely. Because their organs are still developing, the earlier the baby is born the higher the risk that they will develop serious health problems, or even die before they leave the hospital. Our researchers are looking for ways to save these babies and ensure they have a healthy future.
At our London research centre, we have achieved a 23% reduction in premature births in women who are at high risk and attended our clinic during 2014-15, compared to the previous year.
Our London scientists have also been investigating treatments for women who have a ‘weak cervix’. This means that the cervix will open gradually throughout pregnancy, making a premature birth highly likely. To counteract the weak cervix, stitches are often inserted, via the vagina. However, these only have a one in 25 success rate.
Our researchers have identified that inserting a stitch through the abdomen, much higher up in the cervix, is significantly more effective in saving babies’ lives.
It gives women - many of whom have lost multiple babies - hope for the first time.
Our research into specific risk factors
There are many different factors which are thought to increase the risk of premature birth or stillbirth. Our scientists have identified some priorities to investigate in order to either reassure women – or identify suitable treatments to give their babies the best possible chance. Some highlights from our work in key areas are described below.
Running while pregnant
Many women who are keen runners are not sure whether running during pregnancy will harm their baby, and to date there’s been no conclusive evidence either way.
Our scientists in London have now proved that running is safe in pregnancy.
It can, in fact, be recommended as a form of healthy exercise. This will be reassuring news for many women.
Pregnant mothers over the age of 35 are classified as advanced maternal age (AMA). AMA is known to be associated with increased risks in pregnancy, such as stillbirth and complications during labour. We don’t fully understand why older women are at higher risk, and it is important to find out so we can help them – particularly as the average maternal age of first-time mothers in developed countries is rising.
In Manchester, we undertook a study of AMA women which included comparing their placentas, hormone levels and other factors to those of women of optimal childbearing age (20-30). We found that AMA mothers had evidence of age-related damage in their blood and their placentas, which functioned less efficiently. Our findings have important implications for the care of older mothers.
One in five pregnant women in the UK is obese at the time of antenatal booking. We know that these mothers are at increased risk of developing complications during pregnancy. Many people think obesity is a lifestyle choice but the reality is much more complex – it is widely agreed that a mother’s poor diet can programme the children to crave similar food themselves, and face health risks in later life.
Our Edinburgh centre delivers one of the very few specialist clinics for obese pregnant women in the UK. Not only does it make sure women get a much higher standard of care than they would otherwise, it also provides valuable research data.
Most importantly, it saves babies’ lives.
We have shown that the risk of having a stillbirth was eight times higher in women who did not attend our clinic compared with those who did attend.
This is a successful model of care that can be replicated across the UK, and we will be disseminating these results.
Please keep this clinic going as there will always be overweight pregnant ladies and they should be treated with respect and not told they are too heavy for scales or the blood pressure band is too small or the chair digs into their sides because they are made for ‘normal’ size people.
Tommy’s information service
Tommy’s PregnancyLine is a unique, midwife-led service that provides free expert advice for parents-to-be and health professionals by phone, email and now on social media. On many occasions we have helped women who are worried about feeling less movement from their baby, or experiencing bleeding, to seek the urgent assistance they need.
We have improved our online presence this year in order to be more accessible to all pregnant women who need our help. We have added new advice and information sections to our website on mental health issues and diabetes, and ran the ‘Talk to Someone’ campaign, which is described below.
Our Facebook reach is significant: a recent post giving advice on when to call the midwife reached over 200,000 women, and was shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times.
“Talk to Someone” - mental health issues in pregnancy
Mental health issues are common during pregnancy, but women often feel they cannot talk about them or seek help – that they are “supposed” to feel happy. We launched our “Talk to Someone” campaign in July, alongside a video which follows the story of a pregnant woman who exemplifies the real-life experiences of anxiety and depression felt by many women during pregnancy and early motherhood. We also developed a comprehensive digital resource for women in need of mental health information during pregnancy
The campaign received extensive media coverage including Grazia, the Huffington Post and Red Online. We estimate that the coverage and social media has enabled our campaign to reach more than 4 million people.
During 2016 we have a number of exciting developments coming up, including:
- Revamping our website to make the pregnancy information more accessible, effective and inspiring; and
- Undertaking more groundbreaking research into the underlying causes of stillbirth, miscarriage and premature birth.
By supporting Tommy’s, you are saving babies’ lives. We couldn’t do it without you. Thank you.
In addition to our core work on miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and pre-eclampsia, Tommy’s also funds projects that research the effects of lifestyle and well-being on pregnancy and on the later life of the child.
When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Around 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. Tommy’s research is helping to change this.
Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. These babies are vulnerable – they are born before they have grown to cope with the outside world. Tommy’s is saving lives by researching how we can prevent premature births by finding those at risk early on.