We don’t need to find a new miracle vaccine to prevent the majority of stillbirths – we already have the science. But further research will address remaining gaps and help overcome the paralysis of inaction.

Stillbirth is a neglected area of medical research, receiving much less attention than pregnancy complications – despite being the fatal outcome.


3.1x
less than for growth restriction
3.5x
less than for premature labour
5.0x
less than for growth restriction

It is woefully underfunded

Over the last 15 years, stillbirth has accounted for less than 1% of estimated maternal and newborn health research funding.

It has unique challenges

  • Despite stillbirth being all too frequent, there aren’t enough total births in the UK to use a traditional randomised control trial focussed solely on stillbirth
  • Older studies that didn’t produce conclusive evidence were often underpowered and poorly designed.
  • Clever design can overcome this – but even then tens of thousands of participants would be needed.

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The UK has world experts who know how to save lives, but they need funding to produce the evidence.

Examples of the key questions, and work ongoing

  • How can the structure and function of the placenta be assessed during pregnancy to detect potential problems and reduce the risk of stillbirth?
  • Do modifiable ‘lifestyle’ factors (e.g. diet, vitamin deficiency, sleep position, sleep apnoea, lifting and bending) cause or contribute to stillbirth risk?
  • Can the wider use of existing tests and monitoring procedures, especially in later pregnancy, and the development and implementation of novel tests (biomarkers) in the mother or in early pregnancy, help prevent stillbirth?
  • What causes stillbirth in normally grown babies?
  • Which antenatal care interventions are associated with a reduction in the number of stillbirths?
  • Would more accessible evidence-based information on signs and symptoms of stillbirth risk, designed to empower women to raise concerns with health care professionals, reduce the incidence of stillbirth?
  • Why is the incidence of stillbirth in the UK higher than in other similar high-income countries and what lessons can we learn from them?
Tommy’s fund a research centre in Manchester that specialises in examining the role of the baby’s life support system, the placenta. The main cause of stillbirth is growth restriction due to problems with placental blood flow.

The centre is the first of its kind in the UK to combine specialised antenatal care for pregnancies affected by fetal growth restriction with frontline research into why the condition occurs and how it might be treated.

The centre has a wide range of ongoing research projects.

POPS (Pregnancy Outcome Prediction Study) is a programme where over 400 women were observed throughout pregnancy with regulatory monitoring and biological samples taken. Now there are multiple studies analysing the data and the outcomes for these women, to establish new methods of identifying the mothers and babies at risk.
AFFIRM (Does Promoting Awareness of Fetal movements and Focussing Interventions Reduce Fetal Mortality?) is looking at the way maternity units respond to women who report that their babies movements have changed.

Starting in January 2014, 36 participating maternity units one by one started implementing protocols for giving information to mothers about the importance of keeping tack of a baby’s movements during pregnancy, with a consistent action plan to follow if a mother expresses concern.

There is already evidence that this makes a difference. A similar study in Norway published in 2009 found that the stillbirth rate was almost halved in women who reported a change in movements promptly and the pathway was followed.

The study will end in March 2017.

Charities saving lives through research


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Funds medical research into the causes of premature birth, stillbirth and miscarriage. Operates dedicated research centres



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Promotes research to reduce the loss of babies’ lives. Establishing a research fund.



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Aims to reduce UK stillbirths by raising funds for research.


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UK-wide children’s charity funding medical research.