In the UK, around 1 in 240 pregnancies end in stillbirth – when a baby dies in the womb after 24 weeks gestation. This is equivalent to over 3,200 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.
The statistics are shocking:
- 9 babies are stillborn every day in the UK, and around 7,200 globally
- Of the 2.6 million babies that die every year, half could be saved with improved quality of care
- 98% of stillbirths happen in low and middle income countries
- An estimated 4.2 million women are living with depression associated with stillbirth
We need answers, fast.
Tommy’s is carrying 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.
Stillbirth is often linked with fetal growth restriction – where the baby stops growing normally – and a very low weight can make stillbirth four times more likely. In more than half of these cases, the placenta – the organ that gives a growing baby food and oxygen – has stopped working properly.
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:
- Understanding the causes
- Treatment and prevention
- Improving care for women at risk of, and following, a stillbirth
We are already making strides towards our goals.
Here are some of our recent achievements:
- In St. Mary’s Hospital, we lowered the 3 year average number of stillbirths by 24% from 2012 to 2016. This is equivalent to 16 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 are developing an exciting 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%.
Individual stillbirth research projects
Shelley's baby Joseph was stillborn at 37 weeks. A post-mortem found that Joseph was suffering from intrauterine growth restriction
Sarah's son Tristan was stillborn at 38 weeks after symptoms related to lupus anticoagulant disorder affected the placenta. In this account Sarah talks about Tristan's birth as well as the post-mortem, coping with grief and her following pregnancy
Sarah lost her son Joel at 40 weeks. This is an account of Joel's death and it's aftermath.
Rani’s grandaughter, Zara, was stillborn. She talks about the challenge of staying strong for her daughter while grieving herself.
The Tommy's Rainbow Clinic is part of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester. It provides specialist antenatal care for women who have suffered a previous stillbirth or neonatal death.
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.
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, and how to prevent it.
- World Health Organisation (accessed January 2017) The neglected tragedy of stillbirths http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/maternal_perinatal/stillbirth/en/
- Vicki Flenady et al (2016) Stillbirth: recall to action in high-income countries. The Lancet Volume 387, No 10019 p691-702
- Office for National Statistics (accessed January 2017) Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference Tables https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/datasets/vitalstatisticspopulationandhealthreferencetables
- The Lancet (2016) Ending preventable stillbirths: An Executive Summary for The Lancet’s Series http://www.thelancet.com/pb/assets/raw/Lancet/stories/series/stillbirths2016-exec-summ.pdf