Scottish Government campaign aims to reduce the number of stillbirths

Every baby lost to stillbirth is a tragedy for their parents and extended family.

Empowering women...the Scottish Government hopes that by opening discussions on stillbirth, and offering advice on reducing the risk, it will help lower stillbirth rates even further. Expectant mums Stephanie Plant and Tiam Lithgow with Health Minister Jeane Freeman at the campaign launch prior to the country-wide lockdown.

Scotland recorded the lowest stillbirth rates on record in 2018. However, it is a tragedy that still affects four families every single week.

Eager to do more to help parents, and drive that figure down further, the Scottish Government has launched a public health awareness campaign.

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The first of its kind in the country, it has been rolled out nationwide and offers mums the chance to do all they can to protect their unborn child.

For while some stillbirths still cannot be explained, there are steps mums can take in a bid to prevent it.

The campaign advises expectant mums of three ways to lower the risk of stillbirth – go to sleep on their side, don’t smoke and monitor their baby’s movements.

A challenging and emotive topic to discuss means there has been a lack of knowledge around reducing the risks.

But the campaign encourages discussion with expectant mums to help deliver the campaign messages.

It has been developed by the Scottish Government-led Stillbirth Group, in partnership with NHS Scotland, the Maternity and Children Quality Improvement Collaborative and stillbirth charities, Sands UK, Held in Our Hearts (Sands Lothians) and SiMBA.

Ann Holmes, chief midwifery officer and deputy chief nursing officer, said the aim is to empower women to take action themselves.

She said: “The Stillbirth Group has been working for a number of years with a range of partners in a bid to reduce the rate of stillbirths.

“A huge amount of work has been done in Scotland in driving the numbers down and 2018 was the lowest figure on record.

“However, in our line of work we’re often asked by expectant mums what they can do to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

“Some stillbirths still cannot be explained; there is no reason for it happening.

“However, the Stillbirth Group identified three key behaviours that may reduce the risks if women had more information about them.

“It’s great that three key behaviours have been identified.

“For not only do they have the potential to reduce stillbirths but they will also empower women and give them the confidence to take action should they feel something is not quite right.

“We’d much rather see mums in maternity services if they are worried about the health of their unborn child.

“It’s better to get checked out, rather than stay silent and, hopefully, we’ll send them away because everything is fine.

“The campaign aims to get mums talking as we want to see the number of stillbirths reduced even further.

“Any loss of a baby is an absolute tragedy for the parents and wider family.

“That loss is also felt by the staff and charities who support and care for them.

“This campaign is a way of supporting mums but also letting them know there are things they can do to minimise the risks.”

The awareness campaign has been issued nationwide to ensure the message is uniform across the country.

Ann added: “It is important pregnant women receive consistent advice about going to sleep on their side, not smoking and monitoring their babies’ movements regularly.

“We want to make sure those messages are consistent, no matter where mums live in Scotland.

“So the campaign has been issued widely to NHS staff across Scotland – in maternity and neo-natal services, primary care units, GP surgeries, family nurses and health visitors.

“We have targeted all the staff who are likely to come into contact with expectant parents and posters and leaflets have been widely distributed.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman launched the campaign, prior to the loockdown, by meeting expectant mums at a parent education class in Leith Community Treatment Centre in Edinburgh.

Jeane said: “We need to break the silence around stillbirth and challenge the belief that it is ‘just’ something that can happen to pregnant women.

“Scotland had the lowest stillbirth rates on record in 2018 – 3.7 stillbirths per 1000 livebirths.

“Although the rate of stillbirth in Scotland has reduced significantly in recent years, there is still more that we can do.

“While we sometimes don’t know the cause, this campaign aims to reduce our stillbirth rate even further by providing expectant mums with an understanding of how they can help reduce the risk of it happening.”

There are three keys ways to reduce your risk.

The first is to ensure you go to sleep on your side, particularly from 24 weeks onwards.

It is safer to go to sleep on your side because when you sleep on your back, the combined weight of your baby and womb puts pressure on other organs in your body. This pressure can affect the blood flow to your placenta which affects the flow of oxygen to your baby.

You can go to sleep on either the left or the right side and, if you wake up on your back, simply go back to lying on your side.

It is also important not to smoke during pregnancy as this also reduces the flow of oxygen to your baby, which can increase the risk of stillbirth.

For help and support to stop smoking visit the Quit Your Way website at www.nhsinform.scot/campaigns/quit-your-way-scotland.

Monitoring your baby’s movements throughout your pregnancy may also help to reduce the risk.

At around 24 weeks, you might find that your baby starts making more regular movements and you should feel your baby moving right up to and during labour. But if you are worried that your baby’s movements have reduced or stopped, you should get in touch immediately with your midwife or maternity unit using the emergency contact information given to you.

Ann added: “Sometimes we don’t know the cause of stillbirth but it’s not always just something that happens and women can help to reduce the risks.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to get the campaign message across, not only to NHS staff but to mums across the country.

“Should anything about their pregnancy feel different, we’d encourage mums to contact their maternity service.”

For more information on reducing the risk of stillbirth and the campaign, speak to your midwife, visit www.parentclub.scot or read the Ready, Steady, Baby booklet.

There to help expectant mums

Scotland has achieved a 22.5 per cent improvement in the rate of stillbirths since 2014.

In 2017, 28 more babies who might otherwise have been stillborn were born safe and well compared to 2013.

That also meant that 28 more sets of loving parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters welcomed a new arrival to their family home.

In 2018, Scotland had the lowest stillbirth rates on record – 3.7 stillbirths per 1000 live births. However, every child lost is a tragedy for their parents and wider family which is why the campaign has been launched.

For more information on reducing the risk of stillbirth and the campaign, speak to your midwife, visit www.parentclub.scot or look out your Ready, Steady, Baby booklet.

Parent Club is an online community created by the Scottish Government to provide parents and carers with support throughout their child’s early life and beyond.

Ready Steady, Baby! (RSB!) is a pregnancy and parenting resource providing information for expectant parents on pregnancy, labour and birth and the first eight weeks of their baby’s life. 

Pregnant women are given a hard copy of RSB! at their booking appointment – their first pregnancy appointment – which takes places at around eight weeks of pregnancy.

RSB! digital content can also be accessed via the NHS Inform website. Midwives talk to pregnant women about RSB! and encourage them to refer to their copy of the booklet throughout their pregnancy.