Before we lost Sophie, we thought, like most families, that stillbirth was very rare. We naively imagined that once we’d hit 12 weeks then we could tell everybody our happy news, we had a miscarriage at 10 weeks the year before and there I was focussed solely on that 12-week scan; the scan showed a perfectly healthy baby which allowed me the freedom to think that the rest of the pregnancy would be easier and I’d be bringing a healthy baby home.
It is only since losing my daughter that I have discovered the dark, unspoken truth about the stillbirth rates in the UK, and it is certainly not as rare as I once thought! The NHS states that ‘there are more than 3,600 stillbirths every year in the UK, and one in every 200 births ends in a stillbirth’ that means that 11 babies are stillborn every single day, and many of these are thought to be preventable. The UK has one of the worst stillbirth rates in the developed world; and in Europe only France and Austria have more stillbirths per year.
An obstetrician, Professor Kypros Nicolaides has said that ‘offering all women Doppler scans, which measure blood flow between the placenta and foetus, could save over 1,500 babies a year’. Placental failure is often a cause of stillbirth as reduced blood flow through the placenta can starve the baby of food and oxygen. This mostly occurs towards the end of pregnancy, but, if identified, the baby can be monitored carefully and delivered by Caesarean section before the placenta fails. Placental failure can be spotted with regular doppler scans. Prof Nicolaides was the scientist and obstetrician who developed the 12-week Down’s Syndrome scan, still given to every pregnant woman in the UK. He has been researching Doppler scans for 15 years and believes extending the programme across the UK could cut the stillbirth rate by as much as 50% – potentially over 1,500 babies a year.
HQIP (Health Quality Improvement Partnership) commissioned a report as part of the Maternal, Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review Programme in November 2015, based on findings by MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK), which stated that up to 60% of stillbirth cases could be prevented; and improvements in care were identified which may have made a difference to the outcome of stillbirth. The study also found that half of stillbirths occurred after women contacted maternity units due to changes in baby’s movements; and in almost all of these cases maternity units failed to correctly investigate the warnings. You can view the report by clicking here.
Prof Jason Gardosi, director of the Perinatal Institute in Birmingham, set up the Growth Assisted Protocol (GAP), the GAP works by giving each mother a customised growth chart developed using her height, weight at beginning of pregnancy, ethnic origin and how many children she has had; It estimates the weekly size of the baby based on the GAP and if the baby’s growth falls outside the expected “norm” for that individual woman, the mother is given extra scans to check that the baby is thriving. This only costs 50p per pregnancy.
“There is a common misperception that many of the deaths are inevitable, but our research shows most stillbirths are preventable. These babies should not be born in silence, their parents should not be grieving in silence, and the international community must break the silence as they have done for maternal and child deaths. The message is loud and clear – shockingly slow progress on stillbirths is unacceptable.” – Professor Joy Lawn, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, speaking to Sky News