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.

Find a stillbirth research project

In the UK, around 1 in 225 pregnancies end in stillbirth – when a baby dies in the womb after 24 weeks gestation. This is equivalent to over 3,430 babies dying every year. Our stillbirth rate is currently 24th out of 49 high-income countries. Often, parents are given no reason for their loss, and are left to cope with little support. 

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

Visit our section of information and support on stillbirth.

The statistics are shocking

  • 9 babies are stillborn every day in the UK [5]
  • 98% of stillbirths happen in low and middle income countries [6]
  • An estimated 4.2 million women are living with depression associated with stillbirth [7]
  • Read more stillbirth statistics

We need answers, fast.

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 [8]. 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. About half of all stillbirths are linked to complications with the placenta [9].

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 . Research focuses on three main areas:

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

We are already making strides towards our goals.

Recent achievements

  • In St. Mary’s Hospital, we lowered the average number of stillbirths by 19% from 2012 to 2017. 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 have developed a new way of looking at the placenta using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This will help doctors tell which women have healthy pregnancies and which babies may be struggling
  • The AFFIRM study is looking at whether a package of care and information for women with reduced fetal movements can lower the number of stillbirths. When a similar package was introduced in Norway, stillbirth rates fell by 30%.

 

Current research projects

Completed research projects

Why our work is so important

  • Story

    The best and worst day of our lives

    Although Will's weight and length were measurably lacking at birth, the size of his heart and spirit were entirely immeasurable.

  • Story

    Michael's Reason for Running

    I think often about those three little ones. They’ll never know it but they’re my strength. They’re my compassion. They’re my drive. They’re my resolve. They’re my perspective. They are my determination to be the best dad and husband I can possibly be.

  • Lewis smiling while running the Royal Parks Half Marathon for Tommy's

    Story

    Lewis takes on 24hr run for Tommy's in memory of his son

    "After all, the pain of pushing your body through a run is nothing in comparison to losing a child but it is my personal outlet and way to honour my son’s memory."

  • Story of Miscourage

    Story

    Just us two and I miss you

    She said maybe he is turned in a funny position, but we waited a while and still she couldn’t find the heartbeat.

Read about our clinics for women at risk of stillbirth

  • 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.

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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