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What are the early pregnancy risk factors for stillbirth?

Wellbeing of Women has invested £10,560 into Dr John Allotey’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship on evaluating early pregnancy risk factors to reduce the rate of stillbirth

When a baby tragically dies after 24 weeks of pregnancy, before or during birth, it is known as stillbirth.

In the UK, over 683,000 births were registered in 2020. The majority of these babies are born healthy and well, although complications can and do happen. In the same year, 2,638 babies were stillborn.

Reducing stillbirth rates is a priority for the UK government and the NHS. At the moment, doctors use a list of risk factors to identify pregnant women who are more likely to have a stillbirth, but this does not identify all cases.

In a bid to develop a more accurate and personalised list, Wellbeing of Women is funding a research project by Dr John Allotey, Lecturer in Epidemiology and Women’s Health at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Women’s Health, University of Birmingham.

Dr Allotey has carried out a systematic review, which is an in-depth analysis of all previous evidence on what factors can predict stillbirth.

He will now survey experts, including healthcare professionals and women with lived experience of stillbirth, to prioritise the most promising factors to predict stillbirth for further investigation.

Using the IPPIC (International Prediction of Pregnancy Complications) network database which has over 4 million pregnancies and 22,000 stillbirth outcomes for analysis, Dr Allotey will be able to provide an evidence-based list of factors.

This practical list will be useful to healthcare professionals when they see pregnant women at antenatal clinics and public health policy makers.

The risk factors Dr Allotey identifies will inform future research, such as building a ‘risk calculator’, for a more accurate and comprehensive picture of a woman’s personalised risk of stillbirth, by combining various risk factors.

This calculator could next be tested in clinical trials, and then be used to help healthcare professionals identify risk of stillbirth to ensure appropriate care and support can be provided to women and their babies.

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As a women’s health charity, part of what we do is improve awareness and understanding of women's reproductive and gynaecological health.