Federal government's Safer Baby Bundle rollout to reduce stillbirth

Baby bundle: Educational support: Pregnant women will have more support as part of more funding from the federal government. Picture: Andrew Quilty
Baby bundle: Educational support: Pregnant women will have more support as part of more funding from the federal government. Picture: Andrew Quilty

Pregnant women will have more support to educate them about stillbirth.

A package of education and awareness measures designed to reduce rates of stillbirth will soon be available for health professionals and pregnant women across Australia.

The Safer Baby Bundle, developed principally by the Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) in Stillbirth at the University of Queensland, will be provided to hospitals in selected areas.

The national rollout of the bundle is assisted by $3 million from the Federal Goverment's Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), to support research to help transition maternity care into routine clinical practice.

This builds on a $1.3 million National Health and Medical Research Council grant to the CRE earlier this year, which funded trials in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

Six babies are lost to stillbirth every day, while rates of stillbirth in Australia have not dropped for two decades.

The Safer Baby Bundle provides evidence based recommendations in five key risk areas including detection and management of impaired fetal growth, awareness and management of decreased fetal movement., advising women on safe sleeping positions, supporting women to stop smoking, and better timing of birth for women with risk factors.

The bundle is based on a similar initiative in the UK, which has been effective in reducing stillbirth rates.

Funding for national implementation of the Safer Baby Bundle forms part of the Government's response to the 2018 Senate inquiry into stillbirths.

The government is also providing $3 million for stillbirth education and awareness programs, and $1.2 million to the University of Melbourne for research into the use of biomarkers and ultrasound in late pregnancy, to minimise preventable stillbirth.

Volunteer-based organisation, Sands Australia, will receive $1.3 million to provide an intensive 'Hospital to Home' support service to families following stillbirth and miscarriage.

In addition, the government is developing a National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan, working with key stakeholders and individuals.

The draft plan, informed by a roundtable held last February, covers strategies for reducing stillbirth and improved support for bereaved families. It will be fine-tuned at a second roundtable on December 2.

"Reducing the rate of stillbirth in Australia, including providing the best possible support services for families living with the tragedy of stillbirth, is a Morrison Government health and well-being priority," health minister Greg Hunt said.

"We understand the importance of this issue, not only for the women affected, but for their partners, families and the broader community."

Pregnant women are encouraged to sleep on their side to avoid stillbirth in a new Australia-wide education campaign, following evidence showing sleep position can halve the risk of a late-pregnancy stillbirth.

The NSW Government provided $100,000 in funding to the Stillbirth Foundation Australia to develop materials on side sleeping, as part of the new Safer Baby program launched this week.

Senior Clinical Advisor in Obstetrics, Professor Michael Nicholl says NSW Health is committed to reducing preventable stillbirth rates and supporting clinicians to raise awareness amongst pregnant women.

"On Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (October 15) it is important to acknowledge the loss and suffering of families who have experienced a stillbirth, and to continue our efforts to prevent future stillbirths through improved education and care," Professor Nicholl said.

"Stillbirth after 28 weeks of pregnancy affects about one in every 500 babies. The evidence shows that women who go to sleep on their side from 28 weeks of pregnancy can halve the risk of stillbirth, compared to going to sleep on their back."

Senior Staff Specialist Neonatologist, Professor Adrienne Gordon says that from 28 weeks of pregnancy, women should go to sleep on their side at night, after waking up throughout the night and when having daytime naps.

"The going-to-sleep position is the one held longest during the night so women should not be concerned if they wake up on their back, but should simply roll back onto their side. Either the left or right side is fine," Professor Gordon said.

"After 28 weeks of pregnancy, lying on your back presses on major blood vessels which can reduce both the blood flow to the woman's womb and oxygen supply to the baby."

NSW is a key partner with other states and territories and the Stillbirth Centre for Research Excellence in the Safer Baby program.

The NSW Government is investing $170 million in additional health services for families as part of the 2019-20 NSW Budget.