Australian researchers discover major breakthrough in understanding the mysteries of stillbirth.

“It certainly is the most exciting project I’ve been involved in so far, with the potential to influence people’s lives around the planet,” Professor Roger Smith AM said.

Professor Smith’s team at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) has found that many stillbirths are triggered by a deteriorating placenta, reports ABC NEWS.

“As you look around at everybody you know, you’ll notice that different people age at different rates,” he said.

“And it’s almost certainly the same with the placenta. Some placentas age more rapidly than others.”

According to ABC NEWS, Professor Smith believes some placentas begin to age weeks before the mother’s due date, slowly starving the foetus of the nutrients and oxygen it needs to survive.

“If the placenta is not working, the levels of oxygen fall in the baby, and if they get low enough, the baby will die,” Professor Smith said.

“It’s possible that we’ll be able to develop diagnostic tests to pick up in the mother’s blood the signs of ageing of the placenta, and therefore predict this devastating event, so that the obstetricians can perform a caesarean section and get the baby out before the baby dies,” he said.

Professor Smith’s immediate priority is reducing the number of stillbirths in Australia.

“I think it’s really important for mums of stillborn babies to understand that it’s not their fault,” he said.

“This is something that’s happened to the placenta, they had very little or no control over it.

“There was nothing they could do to prevent it. So they shouldn’t feel guilt about it.”

His research will be published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology this November. Read more on ABC NEWS here

Baby growth also a sign

Melbourne researchers also found a warning sign that may indicate a baby’s life is at risk in late pregnancy.

Mercy Hospital for Women found normal-sized babies who had a significant slowdown in growth in the third trimester are likely suffering from a poorly functioning placenta — a major risk factor for stillbirth.

It’s hoped that by identifying babies at risk, and monitoring them closely, more lives could be saved.

Lead author, obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Teresa MacDonald said weight was used as a measure of how well the placenta was delivering oxygen and nutrients to the baby. “Babies who are underweight for their gestational age face a higher risk of stillbirth and are closely monitored during pregnancy, and delivery can be brought forward.”

“But babies that are small only account for half of all stillbirths — the other half occur in babies who are classed as a normal size,” Dr MacDonald said.

Her research at Mercy Perinatal and University of Melbourne followed 347 first-time mothers who had ultrasounds at 28 and 36 weeks to track the baby’s weight and growth. Read more here.

Sadly one in 100 pregnancies in Australia will end with the death of the baby.  Six babies are stillborn every day.

MoM’s recently shared what they wish people knew about miscarriage and pregnancy loss – Read their stories here.

Read more – How your babies movements inutero could be a sign of stillbirth risks

If you are struggling with a recent loss there are a few support networks to reach out to below

The Pink Elephants

Bears Of Hope Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support  
Grief Support: 1300 11 HOPE
Email: support@bearsofhope.org.au

PANDA National Helpline (Mon to Fri, 9am – 7.30pm AEST) Call 1300 726 306

24 hours a day, 365 days a year (including Christmas Day) by dialling 1300 072 637

Lifeline 13 11 14

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  • My Mum had a stillborn baby. He was perfect in every way.


  • When I was pregnant with my first I read a research paper that said studies showed women who sleep on their left side during their pregnancy have less chance of a stillborn than those who slept on their right. Due to the artery running down the right side of our bodies. This article is very interesting and every breakthrough is a great one. Hopefully they can find ways to stop stillbirths from happening


  • Just passed this info on to someone I know might benefit from it… Thanks again.


  • Great information


  • Good to see work being done in this area hopefully they can get the rates of stillbirth down, no one should have to go through that.


  • Great information shared. Thanks for sharing the article.


  • Great article
    Very information and interesting information
    Thanks for sharing


  • Thank you for sharing this information.


  • My sister’s firstborn, Caitlin was a stillbirth. She died and was delivered at 36 weeks. It was devastating for my sister and our entire family. Caitlin was our first grandbaby and niece. I think the ‘how’ was the hardest part. We still celebrate her birthday 22 years on and I still cry every time I visit her grave. My sister did go on to have two more children, but Caitlin will never be forgotten.


  • Wonderful work in this area. Hope a final outcome will be presented so that mothers don’t feel such failures.


  • Such high number indeed !
    We were so lucky with our eldest. Because I desired a waterbirth I had an appointment at 30 weeks in a different hospital then the one I had my checks. As part of their procedure they did a scan, eventhough I would have had a scan at 32 weeks. This scan at 30 weeks saved her life. The flow through the umbilical cord was in reverse and she wouldn’t have been alive 2 weeks later. She was delivered at 30 weeks with a weight of 880 grams.


  • I wish some sort of test had been available to me.


  • I’m sure mothers will continue to feel some guilt even when it’s not their fault. Such a sad time.


  • that number is high and heartbreaking. this is not an easy thing for anyone to deal with but i think that it is great that research is being done in this area


  • 6 Stillborn babies in Australia every day, that’s sad !
    It would be great if they’ll be able to develop diagnostic tests to pick up in the mother’s blood the signs of ageing of the placenta before it results in a stillbirth.


  • Great work by the team!


  • I hope testing the placenta does save babies. Stillbirth must be so devastating. Well done to Dr Smith and the HMRI team.


  • This would be amazingly wonderful.


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