It’s the pregnancy dark secret that no-one likes to talk about – how an estimated seven in every 1000 births end in stillbirth here in Australia.
And while no words can stop the pain for those families, there may be way to monitor whether a baby’s life is at risk during late stages of pregnancy. And it could be a key factor in preventing stillbirth from happening.
All babies grow at different rates in the womb. But research doctors at Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital for Women have revealed the link between slow growth rate during late pregnancy and stillbirth.
Slow growth may be a cause for concern
Babies with a significant slowdown in growth in the third trimester are likely suffering from a poorly functioning placenta — a major risk factor for stillbirth. If the placenta is not functioning properly, then bub is not getting the oxygen and nutrients he or she needs.
Mercy Perinatal and University of Melbourne followed 347 first-time mothers who had ultrasounds at 28 and 36 weeks to track the baby’s weight and growth. The tests found that babies whose growth dropped significantly — about 30 percentiles on the growth chart over an eight-week period — performed worse on how well their mothers’ placentas were working.
The new study comes only one month after another team of Australian researchers shared the groundbreaking news that they are developing a blood test to identify at-risk babies and deliver them before the placenta fails.
Together, these two important discoveries could significantly reduce the number of babies who die in the womb.
Early intervention to prevent stillbirth
Lead author, obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Teresa MacDonald explains that knowing this warning sign will hopefully prevent stillbirths. If bub’s growth rate has slowed, then it could indicate that baby needs extra monitoring and possible intervention.
“Stillbirth does happen. It’s a huge tragedy globally, and within Australia, and it can affect anyone,” Dr MacDonald says.
Knowing the warnings signs will hopefully ensure this heartbreak doesn’t happen. For more information about stillbirth, read our previous article about the brave mum who lost two babies before birth.