Analysing multiple studies to find ways to prevent stillbirth

Tommy’s researchers are drawing upon multiple studies to address questions about stillbirth that have not yet been answered.
  • Author's list

    Professor Alexander Heazell, Dexter Hayes, Professor Jo Dumville, Professor Tanya Walsh

    Start date: April 2019
    End date: March 2022

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

Every day in the UK, 8 babies are stillborn – we think this is unacceptable. Tommy’s is working to find new ways of preventing stillbirth from happening. However, it is difficult for researchers to carry out clinical trials into stillbirth, because such trials would need hundreds of thousands of pregnant women to participate. We need to develop new ways of working out how best to prevent stillbirth.

What’s happening in this project?

Instead of setting up brand new trials to investigate how to reduce the risk of stillbirth, Tommy’s researchers are looking back at older studies. By gathering data from lots of these studies and combining it, they can try to address some of the questions which haven’t yet been answered.

Already, the researchers have studied the relationship between problems with the umbilical cord and stillbirth. Searching through thousands of research articles, they identified 155 studies to combine and analyse. They found that the risk of stillbirth is increased when there are multiple loops of umbilical cord around the baby’s neck, but not when there is only one loop. They also found that knots or twisting of the umbilical cord increase the risk of stillbirth.

The research team are now carrying out a similar analysis of studies into reduced fetal movements. They found 14 studies that investigated whether stillbirth rates can be reduced by either raising awareness of the importance of a baby’s movements or by improving the treatment of women experiencing reduced movements. However, it has not been possible to reach any clear conclusions as they only identified a relatively small number of studies. Instead, the researchers are hoping that they can find out the impact these approaches have on other pregnancy outcomes in women with reduced fetal movements. 

What difference will this project make?

By combining the data from lots of older studies into one analysis, our researchers are revealing brand new findings which couldn’t be seen in individual studies. They hope that their work can contribute towards treatment guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, advising healthcare teams on how best to reduce the risk of stillbirth.