The INVEST study: can increased fetal movement be a sign that something is wrong?

Our researchers want to find out if babies who move more than normal for a period of time could be at risk of stillbirth, and whether this might be linked to problems with the placenta.

Start: September 2017

End: August 2019

Pregnant women are encouraged to get to know their baby’s normal pattern of movements to make sure that they notice when their baby may be struggling. When a baby is unwell, they may conserve energy by slowing down their movements – this is often the first sign that a baby is at risk of stillbirth.

However, three recent studies have shown that a single period of significantly increased movement may also be linked to stillbirth. At the moment, we don’t understand why this happens.

To find out more, we are conducting the INVEST study in Manchester and Liverpool. So far, 60 women who contacted their maternity unit because they thought their baby was moving more than normal have agreed to take part. We are collecting information from these women to see if there is any link between a period of increased movement during pregnancy and poor outcomes for the baby. We are also looking at whether there was any problem with how the placenta was working during pregnancy, or if were any other signs that the baby was struggling.

No link found between increased fetal movement and stillbirth

We have now analysed data from 10 women who experienced increased movements and 10 women who had normal pregnancies. We did not see a link between increased movements and poor pregnancy outcomes, including stillbirth. We did notice that the placentas of the women with increased movements were smaller, although there were no structural differences between the placentas from the two sets of women. There was also no sign that the babies who had a period of exaggerated movement had been starved of oxygen or suffered an infection.

We will next look at the information we have collected from all the women who took part in our study, to see if we get the same results when we look at a larger group of women. We believe that this will help us to understand whether increased movements during pregnancy are really associated with poor outcomes for the baby, and whether this can be related to problems with the placenta and the umbilical cord.

 

The terrible effect of stillbirth

Stillbirth is devastating for families. We have been gathering testimony about the terrible effect of stillbirth on parents and wider family to raise awareness and make the case that more must be done to bring down the statistics.

'We sat on the bed laughing and joking, pushing the worry away. The midwife seemed to be away for ages. When she returned we were taken to a scan room to be scanned. As we walked in the room I knew something wasn’t right as there were three people in the room already. I nervously lay on the bed and after a few minutes the doctor turned to me and said, ‘I’m sorry but there’s no heartbeat.’

'Those words still make me feel sick to my stomach. I just remember screaming and screaming. I looked to David who sat with his head in his hands. I eventually managed to stop screaming and sat and cried uncontrollably. How could this have happened?'

Shelley, whose baby Joseph was stillborn at 37 weeks

Join the fight against baby loss

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here.

More about Tommy's research

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    Research into health and wellbeing in pregnancy

    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.

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    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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    Research into premature birth

    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.

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    Research into miscarriage

    1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.1 in 100 women have 3 or more miscarriages in a row. Research into this area of pregnancy loss has been underfunded for years.

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