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What is stillbirth and how can you reduce your risk?

When a baby dies after 24 weeks of pregnancy, before or during birth, it is known as a stillbirth. Sadly, 4 babies a week are stillborn in Scotland and it’s a truly devastating event for any family to go through. Sometimes we don’t know the cause, but we do know that there are things you can do to reduce your risk of stillbirth. The latest research strongly advises you to:

These ways to reduce your risk of stillbirth are applicable whether you are having a single or multiple birth.

What can cause stillbirth?

Sometimes, a baby can be stillborn and no cause can be found. However, whilst some stillbirths are unexplained, we do know some reasons why stillbirths occur.

These include: 

  • Problems with how the placenta functions. The placenta provides food and oxygen for the baby in the womb, so if there is an issue or complication with this the baby may not be able to receive what it needs to grow normally.
  • Some medical conditions you have before or develop during your pregnancy can also increase the risk of stillbirth. This could include pre-eclampsia or diabetes.
  • If mum and baby pick up an infection, such as flu or rubella (German measles). However, you can lower the risk of picking up infections by washing your hands, avoiding people who are unwell and having the vaccinations offered to you during your pregnancy.

Are there ways to prevent stillbirth?

Sometimes, no cause can be found for stillbirth which means there is no absolute way to prevent it. However, there are ways to reduce your risk. These include:

Going to sleep on your side

image of happy mum sleeping on her side

image of happy mum sleeping on her side

From 24 weeks of pregnancy, it’s 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 the baby. However don’t worry if you wake up on your back, just go back to sleep lying on your side.

Learn more about going to sleep on your side or visit Ready Steady Baby for more advice about having a healthy pregnancy.

Not smoking

Image of icon banning cigarettes

Image of icon banning cigarettes

Smoking while pregnant reduces the flow of oxygen to your baby, which increases the risk of stillbirth. By not smoking, you’re giving you and your baby the best start. It can be tough to stop but we can help you find the right support to quit. Speak to your midwife if you have any questions or would like advice and support on how to stop smoking.

Want help to stop smoking? Find out about support available or visit Ready Steady Baby for more advice about having a healthy pregnancy.

Monitoring your baby’s movements

image of mum cradling bump

image of mum cradling bump

If your baby’s movement change, it could be their way of telling you that something is wrong. You should always follow your instincts and not wait to tell someone. You’ll not be wasting anyone’s time. If your baby’s movements slow down or stop, please contact your midwife or maternity unit straight away using the emergency contact information given to you.

Lean more about monitoring your baby’s movements or visit Ready Steady Baby for more advice about having a healthy pregnancy.

Keeping you and baby healthy

There are other things you can do to help keep you and your baby healthy, such as:

Supporting you after a stillbirth

Stillbirth is one of the most devastating experiences any family can go through and it can take a long time to adjust to life after the death of a baby. However, you’re not alone and there are a wide range of support groups and health professionals who can help and support you during this very difficult time.

If you’ve experienced stillbirth, find out more about the help and support available to you. You can also visit Ready Steady Baby for more information.

Informatiom in BSL and other languages

You can download a leaflet with more information about how to reduce the risks of stillbirth here:

The leaflet is also available on YouTube in BSL and as an audio file.

This article was created as part of