Be SIDS Aware: Sharp Jump in Stillbirth During Lockdown

Red Nose Day – it’s a day where we support families who have been impacted by the death of a baby or child. However, it is not only a day to honour those babies, but also to remind parents that SIDS and stillbirth are still very much part of our community, impacting families every single day.

In fact, the numbers of stillbirth in the UK have spiked dramatically during the COVID lockdown. There are concerns that the same thing could happen in Australia, especially with Victoria’s Stage 4 restrictions.

Stillbirth numbers on the rise

According to the University of South Australia (UniSA)’s Associate Professor Jane Warland, we could be looking at a very dangerous spike in stillbirth during the lockdown.

This is what has happened at St George’s University Hospital in London where the number of babies lost to stillbirth increased four-fold.

This is not due to COVID-19 related illnesses but was instead a result of the lockdown rules and regulations.

[This spike] is the indirect consequences of expectant mothers being told to stay away from hospitals for fear of contracting the virus or overloading the system.

Many high-risk pregnancies were missed, resulting in four times as many stillbirths than usual.” – Assoc Prof Warland

Lockdown means less care for pregnant mums

She says that professional health organisations around the world quickly changed the guidelines for pregnant women when the pandemic hit.

The normal recommendation is that women should see their caregiver at least seven times during their pregnancy. This ensures that any red flags – such as high blood pressure, reduced fetal movements and growth restriction – are all picked up during an examination.

Instead, expectant mothers have been directed to 10-minute tele health appointments via phone and Zoom. How can you check someone’s blood pressure or do a physical examination over the phone?”

Stillbirths are more common in first-time mothers, who are more vulnerable and less aware of potential abnormalities. This is why face-to-face care is particularly critical during their pregnancy, Warland says.

Concern over care

Many new mums have voiced their concerns over maternity care during COVID-19. Almost 3,000 women responded to a recent survey conducted by the Australia College of Midwives.

Prof Warland says,

Women – first time mums particularly – are voicing their concerns about not being seen, forgotten, ignored and scared that their baby might be at risk without regular health checks.

These comments mean that women are not receiving the kind of care they are entitled to in a country which prides itself on a first-class health system.”

There is also sound evidence that women who sleep on their backs are more at risk of stillbirth, most likely due to restrictions in the amount of blood reaching the placenta in that position.

Stillbirth in Australia

In Australia, six babies are stillborn every day.

This is equivalent to about 2,200 each year – a rate that has seen little improvement in the past 20 years. This contrasts with New Zealand, Scotland, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, where stillbirth rates are 30 per cent lower than they were 20 years ago.

This pandemic has escalated that vulnerability and stress to new levels. We need to urgently look at the COVID antenatal care guidelines and find ways to support them that doesn’t put their life, or their unborn baby, at risk.”

Stillbirth and SIDS by numbers 

  • Six babies are stillborn every day in Australia.
  • Approx 2,200 babies are stillborn each year.
  • 742 babies die before they turn one month old.
  • 87 babies die from SUDI and fatal sleeping accidents.
  • For the 300,000 babies born in Australia each year, nearly 3,000 do not survive to their first birthday.

See our previous article on SIDS for more information including how to reduce the risk.

Red Nose Day Australia

At Red Nose, the mission is clear – to reduce the number of stillbirth and SIDS and to support those who have experienced a loss. Red Nose raises awareness and ensures pregnant mums and parents know the risk and are receiving adequate care and support.

Red Nose has saved over 10,000 babies with an 85% reduction in infant deaths since 1989. Their goals include reducing stillbirth by 20% over the next three years, reducing SUDI by 15% and ensuring every person affected by the death of a child receives the right support.

To learn more about SIDS or support Red Nose Day, please visit the Red Nose Day website.

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Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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