Reducing the risk of stillbirth
Most women have healthy pregnancies. But stillbirths do 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.
Looking out for changes in 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.
If you can feel strong movements that follow your baby’s unique pattern, your baby is probably healthy and safe. For example, you might feel your baby stretching, kicking, jabbing elbows, rolling around or hiccupping throughout the day.
Most women start to feel their babies move when they’re 16-24 weeks pregnant. If you’re 24 weeks pregnant or more and you haven’t felt your baby move, call your midwife or doctor immediately.
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.
If you notice a change in your baby’s movement pattern, or you’re not sure whether your baby is moving, call your midwife, doctor or local maternity hospital immediately.
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.
While sleeping on either side is good, it’s best to sleep on your left side when you can. Sleeping on your left side can increase blood flow to your baby.
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.
It’s OK 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.
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. If you’re finding it hard to quit, call the Quitline on 137 848 or ask your midwife or doctor for help.
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 risk of stillbirth. In these cases, a midwife or doctor might say you need 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 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 certain medical conditions, like diabetes or pre-eclampsia
- being overweight or obese
- using assisted reproductive technology to become pregnant
- being born in South Asia
- smoking, drinking alcohol or using other drugs during pregnancy
- experiencing trauma, high stress or family violence during pregnancy
- being overdue to give birth.
It’s a good idea to ask your doctor or midwife about your individual risk 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.