Assessing how healthy babies are when they start moving less than normal (FEMINA3)

Prof Alexander Heazell, Ms Louise Stephens, Ms Bryony Hickton, Ms Marketa Zajicek

Reduced fetal movements are a common reason for women to go to hospital in the last 12 weeks of pregnancy. But there is still no way to accurately tell which women will have a normal pregnancy, and which will have problems.

Start: 2014

End: 2020

Why do we need this research?

One of the simplest ways of a mother being aware of her baby’s wellbeing is to feel for her baby’s movements. If a baby starts moving less than normal, this can be a sign of a problem with the placenta, and there may be a significant risk of stillbirth.

Many women attend maternity services in the last 12 weeks of pregnancy because their baby is moving less. However, around three-quarters of these women will go on to have healthy pregnancies.

At the moment, there is no accurate way to tell which women have babies which are at risk of growth restriction or stillbirth. Doctors need to know this as early as possible in case the baby is struggling and needs to be delivered. An accurate test is urgently needed to find babies at risk.

The FEMINA studies

Researchers funded by Tommy’s have been running a series of studies called the Fetal Movement Intervention Assessment (FEMINA) studies. These studies have involved hundreds of pregnant women who report their baby is moving less than normal.

Our researchers have been taking measurements using ultrasound and blood tests, trying to link them to any pregnancy complications experienced by these women. Their aim is to find ways to tell whether a baby which is moving less than normal is at risk of stillbirth or not.

What’s happening in this project?

In the FEMINA3 study, Tommy’s researchers have been studying information from blood tests to see if it is associated with pregnancy complications. So far, the team have found that abnormal levels of two chemicals in the blood – IGF‑1 and HMBG1 – were associated with pregnancy complications. However, a lot of normal pregnancies also have abnormal levels of these chemicals. This means that neither of these measures are good enough on their own to tell which babies are most at risk.

Our researchers are now investigating if combining these blood tests with other measurements, such as ultrasound, will improve their ability to spot babies at risk. 

What difference will this project make?

Many mothers report a reduction in the movements their baby makes, but most will go on to have normal healthy pregnancies. The FEMINA studies will help to develop new ways to reliably tell whether a baby who is moving less is at risk of complications. This could mean that doctors would know when to intervene early to reduce the chance of stillbirth.

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