Preventing stillbirth

Information about some of the ways you can reduce the risk of stillbirth in pregnancy.

Often we don't know the cause of every stillbirth and it can’t always be prevented. But there are things you can do to reduce the risk of stillbirth.

Four top things you can do to reduce your risk of stillbirth

  1. If you smoke, this is the most important change you can make. Smoking puts you at higher risk of stillbirth and can harm your baby in other ways too. If you smoke, get support to quit while you are pregnant. Quitting smoking in the first trimester of pregnancy however reduces the risk of stillbirth to that of a non-smoker.
  2. In the third trimester you should go to sleep on your side as research has shown that this will help to prevent stillbirth.
  3. You can also monitor your baby’s pattern of movements, which will make it more likely that you’ll notice if they become unwell.
  4. Go to all your antenatal appointments and scans. Everything that happens during these is designed to spot problems early so they can be treated.

Monitoring your baby’s movements

Your baby’s movements are a sign that they are well. When they are unwell, the first thing they do is move less to conserve their energy. Being aware of their pattern of movement allows you to be aware and act if movements change in any way. Going to the hospital in time is important to make a difference.

Never use a hand-held Doppler to listen to your babies heart beat at home. it is important your baby is checked by trained professionals who will carry out the necessary checks to ensure your baby is safe.

From between 16 to 24 weeks you’ll start to feel your baby moving. Most babies settle into a pattern by 24 weeks. They continue to move more right up to the labour and birth. Your babies movements DO NOT slow down as your due date approaches.

There is no set pattern of normal movements. They’re unique to your baby. Over time you’ll get to know your baby’s own pattern of movements.

Contact your midwife immediately if you notice your baby’s movements slow – don’t put it off until tomorrow. And don’t wait until after the weekend. You can access the labour ward of a hospital any time, including over the weekend or in the evening.

There are some key things to remember about a baby’s movements:

  • Babies DO NOT move less towards the end of pregnancy.
  • You’ll feel your baby move right up until you go into labour, and throughout your labour too.
  • Do not use any hand-held monitors, Dopplers or phone apps to check your baby’s heartbeat. Even if you do detect a heartbeat, this does not guarantee that your baby is well.

Read more about baby’s movements in pregnancy.

Quit smoking

The chemicals in cigarettes prevent oxygen and nutrients reaching your baby. These thousands of chemicals also cross the placenta to your baby. There is lots of support out there to help you stop smoking

Stay a healthy weight during your pregnancy

Obesity during pregnancy (when your BMI is over 30) can cause complications. It’s best to get to a healthy weight before getting pregnant. If you’re pregnant and worried about your weight, get advice from your GP about managing your weight by eating well and staying active during your pregnancy.

Avoid alcohol and drugs

Drinking heavily and taking drugs in pregnancy can seriously affect your baby's development and in-crease the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Look after yourself

  • Go to all your antenatal appointments and scans so midwives can check your baby’s growth and development. They’ll also test for signs of conditions that can affect mums, such as pre-eclampsia, which have been associated with stillbirth. Give a urine sample at EVERY antenatal appointment.
  • Read up on how to avoid infections in pregnancy that can affect your baby. 
  • Tell your midwife about any bleeding, stomach pains or other symptoms that are worrying you.
  • Report any itching to your midwife. Itching can be a sign of a liver disorder called obstetric cholestasis/intraheptic cholestasis of pregnancy. This condition has been linked to an increased risk of stillbirth, but with careful management most babies are unaffected.
  • Get your flu vaccination in pregnancy. The vaccine is recommended by the NHS as well as RCOG and RCM because of the benefits to you and your baby. Getting the flu in pregnancy is a serious matter. As well as increasing your risk of stillbirth it puts you at risk of complications.
  • Start taking folic acid before conception to reduce the chance of spina bifida. This should be continued for the first trimester. Vitamin D supplements are recommended for the whole duration of your pregnancy. Your midwife or obstetrician can advise on the specific dose based on your individual needs.

More information on stillbirth

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Last reviewed on August 31st, 2017. Next review date August 31st, 2020.

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