Reducing UK stillbirths needs to be a collective effort to make a timely difference

Tommy’s today welcomes the Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report UK issued by the Maternal, Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review Programme.

Although highlighting that stillbirth and neonatal deaths continue to decline in the UK, 15 families each day are still experiencing the tragedy of baby loss – an unacceptably high number, and one higher than many European countries.

"15 babies died every day

Over 5,700 babies died before or during birth (stillbirth) or within the first four weeks of life (neonatal death)"

Variation of stillbirth and neonatal death rates in different regions within the UK is of concern and is not rightly explained by demographic risk factors highlighted. As such, the report rightly recommends care provision and accuracy of reporting deaths as areas for more focused attention.

"Local rates varied across the UK from 5.4 to 7.1 stillbirths and neonatal deaths per 1,000 births."

At Tommy’s we believe all pregnancies deserve to be healthy and safe. So it is disappointing to see that inequalities remain a significant factor in the figures reported.

The women reported as most at risk of losing a baby were:

  • very young women
  • older women
  • women from specific ethnic group
  • women living in poverty.

Which babies are most at risk?

  • Black or Black British, Asian or Asian British: >50% higher risk
  • Teenage mothers and mothers over 40: 39% higher risk
  • Mothers living in poverty: 57% higher risk

The report also reminds us of the importance of supporting women to adopt healthier lifestyles before and during pregnancy. One in five women who experienced baby loss smoked during their pregnancies, and one in five women were obese.

Care of women during pregnancy needs to consider the woman as well as the developing baby and provide a holistic approach to supporting and caring for women during this important period.

Being born too soon has always been a significant risk factor for perinatal death, and this risk remains high. We need to continue to strive to seek solutions to supporting babies to remain safely in-utero for longer.

The one in three babies who died despite being at term are a stark reminder that adequate care throughout pregnancy and during labour are just as important as understanding what biological factors may be underlying.

Jane Brewin, CEO of Tommy’s, said: “We welcome the recommendation in the report to have a national target to reduce perinatal deaths in the UK. This will ensure that the system works together to see fewer families experiencing this tragedy. With this in mind Tommy’s remains a committed and active partner to the Government’s Stillbirth Reduction Priority setting programme which we anticipate will move things forward.

"As a charity, we continue to fund research into why babies die and provide evidence based interventions which reduce stillbirth. Our Manchester Stillbirth Research Centre and Rainbow Clinic have seen a local reduction in rates by 18% between 2010-2013 through their innovative care and research efforts, meanwhile while our London Preterm Research Centre and clinic have seen a reduction in preterm birth in South East London from 9.2% to 7.8%.

"Understanding the biological causes for stillbirth and preterm birth are crucial, and our Centres work to try to understand this. This is why our support for the only stillbirth research centre in the UK is so vital.

"But there must also be consistent and quality care and advice for women to reduce risks and see more babies born healthy. We believe and strive to see all pregnancies and births to be healthy and safe.

We hope that this report this report acts as a catalyst for national dialogue about the mortalityrates we all aspire to achieve.”

Read the full report: The Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report 2013

Read more about our research into stilbirth

  • The team at the Rainbow Clinic

    The Rainbow Clinic

    The Tommy's Rainbow Clinic is part of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester. It provides specialist care for women who have suffered a previous stillbirth or neonatal death.

  • Diagram of baby and placenta in womb

    The Placenta Clinic

    The Placenta Clinic, run as part of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, is the largest placenta-focused research group in the world.

  • researcher looking through microscope

    Tommy’s Manchester Research Centre

    Tommy’s research centre at St Mary’s Hospital opened in 2001 and is now home to around 100 clinicians and scientists researching the causes of stillbirth.

  • Team of researchers

    Research into stillbirth

    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.

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