Research into stillbirth

When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Nearly 3000 families a year get the devastating news that their baby is not alive. Our research is helping to change this.

Find a stillbirth research project

In the UK, 1 in every 250 pregnancies end in stillbirth – when a baby dies after 24 weeks gestation. This is equivalent to around 2,950 babies dying every year. Our stillbirth rate is currently 24th out of 49 high-income countries.

Read stories from our supporters about their experiences of stillbirth and neonatal death.

We have information and support on stillbirth here.

The statistics are shocking

  • 8 babies are stillborn every day in the UK
  • 98% of stillbirths happen in low and middle income countries
  • An estimated 4.2 million women are living with depression linked to stillbirth

Read more stillbirth statistics

We need answers, fast

Often, parents are given no reason for their loss, and are left to cope with little support. 

Tommy’s is the largest UK charity funding research to prevent stillbirth. We carry out vital research to find out why stillbirths happen, and how we can prevent them. Rates of stillbirth are falling – but not fast enough. Our research is helping us understand the causes of stillbirth, so we can find the babies at risk in time to help them.

In many cases when a baby is stillborn no cause can be found. The death of these babies deaths remain ‘unexplained’, which can be particularly hard for grieving parents who want to understand what happened to their baby. 

The placenta, fetal growth and stillbirth

About half of all stillbirths are linked to complications with the placenta.

Our research aims to reduce stillbirth rates by finding the missing links between stillbirth, the placenta and the baby’s growth. Most of our stillbirth research takes place in our Manchester research centre, where we have made great progress in our Rainbow and Placenta Clinics.

Our research focuses on three main areas:

  1. Understanding the causes of stillbirth
  2. Treatment and prevention of stillbirth
  3. Improving care for women at risk of, and following, a stillbirth

We are already making strides towards our goals.

Recent achievements

  • We have reduced the proportion of unexplained stillbirths in the Greater Manchester area by 32%. This is equivalent to 12 fewer babies dying every year.
  • In Edinburgh, obese women attending our antenatal clinic were an astounding 8 times less likely to have a stillbirth than women receiving standard care.
  • We are rolling out the excellent care that women get in a pregnancy after a stillbirth at our rainbow clinic to 5 new sites.

Current research projects

Completed research projects

Why our work is so important

  • Baby Yaeli was sadly stillborn after reduced fetal movements

    Story

    My baby's death was preventable, but that doesn't mean it was my fault

    Deborah is 37 and lives in Borehamwood with her caring and supportive husband Ben. Their baby Yaeli was sadly stillborn at 40 weeks + 1 day after Deborah noticed reduced movements.

  • Mum holding baby up close to her face

    Story

    Our little boy wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Tommy’s pioneering research

    Gaynor and Ben from Yorkshire were devastated when their daughter Kallipateira was stillborn in 2018. Sadly, their second pregnancy ended in miscarriage in 2019. Gaynor self-referred to Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic in Manchester later that year and was supported by Professor Heazell through her third pregnancy. Their healthy rainbow baby Apollon was born during lockdown in 2020.

  • Esme

    Story

    Stillbirth and explaining baby loss to children

    Frankie's first pregnancy was low risk, largely problem free. At 38 weeks and 2 days, Frankie experienced reduced movements and sadly baby Esme was stillborn. With small children in her wider family, Frankie turned to books to try and explain the tragic loss of Esme - but couldn't find anything suitable. It was then that she created the beautifully illustrated book 'These Precious Little People', for families affected by the death of a baby.

  • Sharon and her family

    Story

    I want to inspire others to find their voice and break the silence

    Sharon Manatsa from Bedfordshire was delighted when she found out she was pregnant in 2016. Devastatingly, her baby Melkiah was stillborn. Sharon is now determined to break the stigma around baby loss, particularly within Black and minority ethnic communities. This is Sharon’s story.

Read about our clinics for women at risk of stillbirth

  • The Lupus in Pregnancy (LIPS) Clinic

    The Lupus in Pregnancy (LIPS) Clinic

    The Lupus in Pregnancy (LIPS) Clinic is part of the Tommy's Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital. This specialist antenatal clinic is for pregnant women with Lupus Spectrum disorders and connective tissue disorders.

  • Velocity Clinic

    VELOCITY Clinic

    The Manchester VELOCITY Clinic is part of the Tommy's Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital. The clinic provides multidisciplinary care for women who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

  • The Manchester Antenatal Vascular Service (MAViS)

    The Manchester Antenatal Vascular Service (MAViS)

    The Manchester Antenatal Vascular Service (MAViS) is part of the Tommy's Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital. The clinic supports women who have a high risk of hypertension in pregnancy, by monitoring women closely, giving them extra scans and specialist support.

Sources

1. WHO (2016) Making every baby count: audit and review of stillbirths and neonatal deaths 2016, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/documents/stillbirth-neonat...

2. ONS (2017) Vital statistics: population and health reference tables 2017, Office of National Statistics, London, England, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigrati...

3. ONS (2017) Vital statistics: population and health reference tables 2017, Office of National Statistics, London, England, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigrati...

4. Flenady V, Wojcieszek AM, Middleton P (2016) Stillbirths: recall to action in high-income countries, The Lancet 2016;387(10019):691–702, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26794070

5. ONS (2017) Vital statistics: population and health reference tables 2017, Office of National Statistics, London, England, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigrati...

6. The Lancet (2016), Ending preventable stillbirths 2016, http://www.thelancet.com/pb/assets/raw/Lancet/stories/series/stillbirths...

7. The Lancet (2016), Ending preventable stillbirths 2016, http://www.thelancet.com/pb/assets/raw/Lancet/stories/series/stillbirths...

8. NHS Choices [accessed 10/01/2018] Stillbirth causes, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stillbirth/causes/

9. NHS Choices [accessed 10/01/2018] Stillbirth overview, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stillbirth/

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