Saving babies at risk of stillbirth | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - April 2016

Saving babies at risk of stillbirth

Research funded by Action has shown that new tests can help identify more babies who are at high risk of being stillborn, giving doctors a vital window of opportunity to intervene and potentially save lives.

Up to 65 per cent of stillbirths are linked to problems with the mother’s placenta, which is vital for providing oxygen and nutrients to the unborn child, as well as producing crucial hormones to help the baby develop and grow.

In 2013, Dr Lucy Higgins, of the Maternal and Fetal Research Centre at the University of Manchester, was awarded a Research Training Fellowship of £133,000.

Many women who suffer a stillbirth say their baby moved around less than usual in the hours or days before their loss. Dr Higgins believed reduced movement could be a warning sign of problems with the placenta.

She and her team have developed new tests to examine how well the placenta is working. They used ultrasound techniques to measure its size and blood flow. They also measured the hormones it released into the mother’s bloodstream.

By adding these tests to existing ones when a pregnant woman reported reduced movement, they found they could identify an extra three in every 10 babies at highest risk.

These findings are now being tested in another study, due to finish in 2017. If confirmed, placental testing should be available to mothers within the following five years.

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