STILLBIRTH: The Facts
A recent survey described public perception that stillbirth is less frequent than cot death and Down’s syndrome even though these conditions are 5 and 10-fold less common than stillbirths respectively. This lack of public awareness is paralleled in low levels of funding from the government funding streams (NIHR/MRC), with only 0.33% of their budgets directed at “research related to stillbirth”.
The lack of funding is reflected in the low output of research relating to stillbirth. Interrogation of the PubMed search engine yields 4,363 hits using the term stillbirth, this is in contrast to 686,374 on pregnancy and 24,412 on pre-eclampsia. While individual research projects may touch on stillbirth, including those investigating fetal growth restriction, obstetric cholestasis and pre-eclampsia, there is little researched solely focussing on the understanding and prevention of stillbirth, and care for parents who experience a stillbirth.
The research taking place at Manchester University therefore plays a vital role in the fight against stillbirth. The Holly Martin Stillbirth Research Fund raises money and awareness for this research.
Definition: A stillbirth is defined as a baby born dead after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy.
1 in 200 pregnancies end in stillbirth. 11 babies are stillborn in the UK every day, which equates to roughly 4,000 stillbirths per year. It is 15x more common than cot death and 10x more common than Down's Syndrome, but it receives minimal government funding and public knowledge is limited.
Stillbirths can be caused by numerous factors, such as infection, placental complications, congenital abnormalities and maternal illness. Approximately 30% of stillbirths have an unknown cause. Risk factors for stillbirth include, but are not limited to, smoking, drinking, obesity and increased age.
Stillbirth rates in the UK, according to reports by The Lancet, are rated 33rd in Europe. While stillbirth rates are slowly declining, UK rates remain some of the highest in Europe and are declining more slowly than other Western European states.
Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health. Perinatal Mortality 2008: England, Wales and Northern Ireland. London: Centre for Enquiries into Maternal and Child Health, 2010.
Scott J, Bevan C. Saving Babies’ Lives 2009. London: UK Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society, 2009.
Hansard. Written Responses to Parliamentary Questions (231447) 5th November 2008. House of Commons. London, 2008.