Why do we need this research?
In the UK, around 4,000 babies every year are stillborn. For half of these, there is no obvious cause, meaning parents are left without answers for why it happened. We need to better understand the causes of stillbirth, so that we can give parents the answers they need at a difficult time, and find ways to prevent stillbirth from happening in the future.
What’s happening in this project?
We know that some health conditions during pregnancy, such as intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) or gestational diabetes, can sometimes increase the chances of stillbirth. However, we haven’t fully understood why this is the case. Our researchers are looking for clues in the heartbeats of unborn babies.
Fetal heartbeats can be measured using electrocardiography, or ECG. This test produces a waveform on a computer screen or on paper, which doctors can use to spot problems. Our researchers are looking at the ECG results of babies of mothers with ICP and gestation diabetes, as well as substances in the blood.
So far, the team have found that in severe ICP, the heartbeat of the unborn baby is different to a normal heartbeat. Looking in umbilical cord blood of these babies, they also found that a substance linked to heart problems, called NT‑proBNP, is also present at higher than normal levels. These results confirm earlier work which showed that ICP can cause irregular heartbeats in babies’ hearts.
The team are now studying the heartbeats of babies of mothers with extreme ICP, who are most at risk of stillbirth. They are also carrying out the same studies in mothers with gestational diabetes, to see if the condition has any effect on the baby’s heartbeat.
What difference will this project make?
By finding new ways to detect problems with the baby’s heartbeat, this project could help doctors spot babies who are at risk of stillbirth as a result of pregnancy complications. This could mean that they can intervene as early as possible to increase the chances that a mother will give birth to a healthy baby.
Get our research updates
Tommy’s funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. We can keep you updated on our research news. If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.
More research projects
We asked our lovely friend and supporter, Jennie Agg, what motherhood and Mother's Day means to her. In this piece, she speaks of her difficult past experiences of Mother's Day, how she has grappled with a sense of being in limbo, and the ultimate purity of her feeling of mother love.
In the lead up to Mother's Day, you might find yourself thinking about how to process your emotions and what to do on the day itself. The anticipation can often feel scary or daunting, and finding ways to look after yourself is important. In this blog, you'll find advice from a few of our lovely supporters who understand how you're feeling.
New research has revealed the benefits of giving progesterone to women with early pregnancy bleeding and a history of miscarriage.
Tommy’s spent yesterday morning at the charming Foundling Museum in London, celebrating the work of Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement alongside the opening of the museum’s new exhibition, ‘Portraying Pregnancy’.