Can steroid injections improve blood flow to babies at risk of stillbirth?

Finding out whether steroids can improve the blood flow through the placenta

Start: September 2012

End: August 2020

The placenta is very important in pregnancy as it supplies babies with the oxygen and nutrients they need to grow and survive. In a healthy pregnancy, oxygen is transferred from the placenta to the baby continuously through the umbilical cord. However, in some pregnancies, there are gaps in the flow of blood between the baby and the placenta, meaning that babies are not able to grow properly and are at risk of being stillborn.

At the moment, there are no treatments that can improve the flow of blood between the placenta and the baby – the only option in these pregnancies is to deliver the baby early. When this happens, the mother is given steroids to help the baby’s lungs mature so that it can breathe better after birth.

Steroid injections have been shown to improve blood flow in placenta

Interestingly, these steroid injections have actually been shown to temporarily improve blood flow between the placenta and the baby, although we don’t know whether this benefits the baby.

We have recently pioneered the development of an exciting new way of looking at the placenta while the baby is still growing using Magnetic Resonance Imaging  (MRI).

Using our technique, we can look much more closely at the blood flow between the placenta and the baby, and find out how much oxygen is present. We will now use this method to monitor babies that have been struggling because of gaps in the flow of blood to and from the placenta, to see if there is an increase in the amount of oxygen in both the placenta and the baby after a steroid injection.

We want to find out if steroid injections could be used as a treatment when babies are not growing properly. In the future, we also hope to use our MRI technique to assess how well other novel therapies are working.

 

The devastating 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

  • Three pregnant women sitting in a row

    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.

  • Team of researchers

    Research into stillbirth

    When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Around 3,500 families a year get the devastating news that their baby is not alive. Our research is helping to change this.

  • Nurse monitoring premature baby in hospital

    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.

  • Clinical researcher looking at test tube

    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.

More stories of stillbirth

  • Gemma and Dave Great North Run Reason for Running

    Story

    We miss Betsy every single day

    Our beautiful baby girl was so perfect, I looked at her little face and waited for her to cry to prove that they were wrong, but she couldn’t.

  • Ezra's memorial service flowers

    Story

    Healing through giving

    Around 1 in 4 pregnancies in the UK will end in loss. Education and family support specialist, Margaret Pritchard Houston, shares her experiences of baby loss, milk donation, and why mothers should always be given all the options.

  • Baby Kaitlin

    Story

    Baby Kaitlyn

    My pregnancy with Kaitlyn was what you would call “textbook”.

  • Baby loss submission

    Story

    In that silence I could hear my heart breaking

    When I reached 9 weeks I started to have a feeling that something wasn't right, my symptoms had slowly started fading.

Was this information useful?

Yes No

Comments

Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.

Your comment

Add new comment