Reducing the risk of stillbirth
Most women have healthy pregnancies. But stillbirths sometimes happen.
You can’t always prevent stillbirth. But there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of stillbirth. These include:
- being aware of baby movements
- going to sleep on your side
- having a healthy lifestyle
- going to your antenatal appointments.
Being aware of your baby’s movements
It’s important to get to know your baby’s unique movement pattern during pregnancy. A change in your baby’s movement pattern could mean that your baby is unwell.
Most women start to feel their babies move when they’re 16-24 weeks pregnant. And baby movements usually get stronger and more frequent as babies grow bigger. And from about 28 weeks, the way your baby moves will usually stay the same until your baby is born.
To get to know your baby’s movements, it can help to sit or lie on your side in a quiet place. You could record how many movements you feel over a period of time and how strong each movement is.
Throughout pregnancy, if you can feel strong movements that are typical of your baby, your baby is probably healthy and safe. For example, you might feel your baby stretching, kicking, jabbing elbows, rolling around or hiccupping on and off throughout the day.
Call your midwife, doctor or local maternity hospital immediately if you’re 24 weeks pregnant or more and you haven’t felt your baby move, you notice a change in your baby’s movement pattern, or you just feel that something isn’t right.
Sleeping on your side
Going to sleep on your side during pregnancy reduces the risk of stillbirth, especially in the third trimester – that is, from 28 weeks of pregnancy until birth.
This is because lying flat on your back can cause your uterus to press on a big vein called the vena cava. Pressure on this vein can reduce the flow of blood and nutrients to your baby.
You can sleep on either side. To sleep comfortably on your side, try putting a pillow between your legs and another behind your back. This can prevent or ease back pain.
If you wake up on your back, just settle back to sleep on your side.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in pregnancy
A healthy lifestyle during pregnancy can help to reduce the risk of stillbirth and provide the best possible environment for your growing baby.
One of the best things you can do to keep your baby well is to not smoke and to stay away from cigarette smoke.
Smoking while pregnant increases the risk of stillbirth, premature birth, birth defects and other serious conditions in your baby. Your baby is also at risk if your partner or other people in your home smoke.
So if you or your partner smoke, now is a great time to quit. Call the Quitline on 137 848 or ask your midwife or doctor for help to quit.
Quitting alcohol and other drugs
It’s safest not to drink alcohol during pregnancy. It’s never safe to use recreational or illicit medicines or drugs.
If you drink alcohol or use other drugs, tell your doctor or midwife early and ask for help to quit. You can also call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.
Eating well and exercising regularly
Healthy eating in pregnancy is important for your baby’s growth and development, as well as your own health and wellbeing.
Regular exercise also helps to keep you and your baby well. Regular, gentle to moderate physical activity is usually good for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. It’s best to check with your doctor or midwife about what physical activity is OK for you.
Check with your doctor or midwife that any medicines or drugs you’re taking are safe for your baby. This includes prescribed medicines, vitamin or herbal supplements and medicines from chemists and supermarkets.
Going to regular antenatal appointments
When you go to your antenatal appointments, your doctor or midwife can check how you and your baby are going.
At your regular appointments, your midwife or doctor will also track your baby’s growth.
Most babies grow at a steady and healthy pace. But some babies grow slowly or are smaller than expected, which might indicate a higher chance of stillbirth. In these cases, a midwife or doctor might recommend further tests to check on your baby’s health.
Antenatal appointments are also a good time for you to ask questions or talk about any concerns.
It’s also important to tell your doctor or midwife about your pregnancy symptoms so that they can look out for health problems or risks to you and your baby. If there’s a problem, it can be picked up and managed or treated early.
Risk factors for stillbirth
Some factors can put pregnant women at higher risk for stillbirth.
These risk factors include:
- being pregnant at 35 years or older
- having previous stillbirths
- not having antenatal care
- having your first baby
- having certain medical conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure including pre-eclampsia
- being overweight or obese
- becoming pregnant by assisted reproductive technology
- having an Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific, African or South Asian background
- smoking, drinking alcohol or using other drugs during pregnancy
- experiencing trauma, high stress or family violence during pregnancy
- giving birth after 41 weeks of pregnancy.
It’s a good idea to ask your doctor or midwife about your individual risks for stillbirth. If you have a risk factor for stillbirth, your doctor or midwife can talk with you about what you can do to reduce your risk.
High stress, trauma or family violence in pregnancy can increase the risk of stillbirth. If you’re going through any of these experiences, or you have other problems or concerns, talk to your doctor or midwife. They can help you find support so that you and your baby stay safe.