A groundbreaking new study published in The Lancet has found disadvantaged women in Australia are twice as likely to suffer a stillbirth.
Women from ethnic minorities, migrants, teenage mothers and women disadvantaged by education or income were found to have an increased risk of stillbirth.
It is thought that limited access to healthcare, poor quality care, institutional racism, poor nutrition and a number of pregnancy conditions could be to blame for this increased risk.
The researchers from the University of Queensland, Griffith University, the University of Adelaide and the University of Auckland recommend a detailed national audit on all stillbirths to create a better understanding of the issues. Data on stillbirths is limited and it is often unclear why a still stillbirth occurred.
The report recommends the use of autopsies to allow greater understanding of the cause of stillbirth. The researchers also recommend that a classification system to collect data on when stillbirths occurred would improve our knowledge of stillbirths.
A more comprehensive system of data collection for stillbirths would allow researchers to analyse how and why stillbirths occur. Australia’s current data collection system is substandard, but it is hoped that improvements will be made in line with the report’s recommendations.
Vicki Flenady, one of the report’s authors, told The Age: “We continue to make improvements for newborn babies and we’ve made huge inroads into SIDS but we have not reduced the numbers of stillborn babies. It’s scandalous that we haven’t.”
There are 2.6 million stillbirths globally each year. Around 2,000 of these stillbirths are recorded in Australia. In other High Income Countries, the stillbirth rate is decreasing, but Australia has not seen a notable decrease in the number of stillbirths.
Iceland currently has the lowest number of stillbirths, with 1.3 recorded per 1,000 births. In Australia, this figure rises to 2.7 stillbirths per 1,000 births. Many of these stillbirths are thought to be preventable, and Australia has been accused of not making enough progress to reduce the number of stillbirths each year.
The Lancet is currently running a campaign to try and tackle not only the risk of preventable stillbirth, but also the social stigma surrounding this loss. On their website, it says: “Almost 2·6 million babies are stillborn worldwide every year. That’s roughly the population of Rome, wiped out. Yet we still don’t talk openly about stillbirth. Vulnerable girls and women are often left to suffer in silence. It only perpetuates the stigma when they have little to no information on the topic. More must be done to cut through the sociocultural, religious, and health barriers that inhibit open dialogue.”
Recommended Reading: If you’re worried about the risk of stillbirth, take a look at BellyBelly’s article, Stillbirth – What Expectant Parents Need To Know.