Awareness is the first step in reducing the UK’s poor record on stillbirth

Mon 19th Jun 2017

During June the Stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands is running a campaign highlighting the loss of 15 babies a day before, during or shortly after birth. Rachel Pearce from Coodes Solicitors’ Clinical Negligence team highlights the issues.

The statistic from Sands, that 15 babies in the UK die each day before during or just after birth, is highly shocking. Stillbirth is defined as a baby dying at 24 week’s gestation or more. Figures suggest that in the UK one in every 240 pregnancies ends in stillbirth. Here in the South West, around 16 babies, from Gloucestershire down to Cornwall, are stillborn each month.

While the cause of a stillbirth is often not known, studies suggest that around half are linked to placental complications. Placental abruption – when the placenta starts to separate from the uterus after the 20th week of pregnancy – is now known to be a major risk factor for stillbirth. Other causes include high blood pressure or lack of oxygen to the baby. The NHS has some useful information on placental abruption and other causes of stillbirth here.

In my career as a clinical negligence lawyer, I have supported a number of women who have sadly experienced a stillbirth that could and should have been prevented. A study funded by Sands has revealed that only four out of ten parents will get an answer as to why their baby was stillborn. For those parents without answers, their grief is made even worse by not getting answers and being left with ‘what ifs’. Of course, it is equally traumatic for those parents who discover that the stillbirth could and should have been prevented.

Sands has highlighted the fact that the UK is falling behind the rest of Europe in reducing the number of stillbirths. Charity Tommy’s have estimated that half of stillbirths could be prevented, with improved quality of care. It is clear then that some families are being failed by health services.

The cases I have worked on all share a common theme – the stillbirths were preventable and were linked to women not being property monitored during their pregnancy and/or labour; through a failure to identify and treat a maternal infection or misinterpreting scan or test results. It is now well known that reduced foetal movement can be a sign that something is wrong.

I would advise anyone who is going through pregnancy to always trust their instincts. If you are worried at all, contact your midwife straight away. If you are already in hospital, waiting to give birth, speak out if you are concerned that things do not feel normal. Maternity wards can be busy places, but stand your ground. Having a birth partner who can be assertive on your behalf is also important.

Charities like Sands do a great job of campaigning, raising awareness and offering support to bereaved families. Sadly the UK is falling behind the rest of Europe in tackling this tragic issue.

For advice on any of these issues, please contact Rachel Pearce in the Clinical Negligence team at Coodes Solicitors on 01326 318900 or

Mon 19th Jun 2017

Rachel Pearce

Head of Clinical Negligence & Personal Injury

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