A telephone survey of 999 Irish adults conducted by researchers at University College Cork found almost three in five (56%) were “unable to identify any stillbirth risk factors” even though 54% knew someone personally who had a stillbirth.
Of those who did give reasons for a stillbirth:
- More than half believed it was due to a problem with the baby (53%);
- 39% believed it was a problem with the mother;
- Almost one in three believed it occurred as a result of the care provided to the mother;
- Just 17% correctly identified the incidence of stillbirth in Ireland — one in 238 births;
- 88% felt the possibility of stillbirth should be included in antenatal education programmes.
Of those who did identify risk factors, 28% identified alcohol, 22% identified smoking and 16% identified substance abuse.
Just two of the participants identified reduced fetal movements.
Cork-based healthcare chaplain, Dr Daniel Nuzum, co-author of the research, entitled The public awareness of stillbirth: A population study, said the attribution of the role of care provided to the mother as a cause for stillbirth by one in three respondents suggested healthcare staff were often held to blame.
He said this chimed with the findings of other studies where healthcare providers “experience feelings of guilt, sadness and anxiety contributing to the personal and professional burden that can be experienced by healthcare staff following adverse perinatal outcomes such as stillbirth”.
Dr Keelin O’Donoghue, who co-authored the latest research, said their findings highlighted the need “for more discussion, more education and more openness in general about stillbirth”.
“As reduced fetal movements is the focus of much global attention as a stillbirth risk factor, the lack of knowledge in this study is concerning.
“Improved public health initiatives and antenatal education are necessary to increase awareness of stillbirth risk factors and to improve care and monitoring during pregnancy.”
Dr O’Donoghue, a consultant obstetrician at Cork University Maternity Hospital and principal investigator at the Infant Research Centre, has highlighted the importance of post-mortem examination of baby and placenta, following stillbirth.
The general public supports this approach, based on the study findings, which show four in five believe all stillbirths should be medically investigated.
Dr O’Donoghue said for those who have had a stillbirth, “robust investigation is important to identify and minimise risk in subsequent pregnancies”.
In Ireland, stillbirth is defined “a child born weighing 500g or more or having a gestational age of 24 weeks or more who shows no sign of life”.