There are a number of things that may increase your risk of having a stillborn baby, including:
- having twins or multiple pregnancies
- having a baby who does not grow as they should in the womb
- being over 35
- smoking, drinking alcohol or misusing drugs while pregnant
- having obesity
- having a pre-existing physical health condition, such as epilepsy
Sometimes we won’t be able to find out the cause of every stillbirth, and they cannot always be prevented.
There are some things that you can do to reduce the risk of stillbirth.
Smoking increases the risk of stillbirth and can harm your baby in many other ways.
If you smoke, getting support to quit while you are pregnant is the most important step you can take. Quitting smoking in the first trimester of pregnancy reduces your risk of stillbirth significantly.
The chemicals that can be found in cigarettes can deprive your baby of oxygen and nutrients, and they also can cross the placenta.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
There is no safe amount of drinking during pregnancy, so the safest thing to do is to avoid alcohol completely.
Drinking heavily and taking drugs during pregnancy can have serious effects on your baby’s development and increase your risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
Sleep on your side
Sleeping on your side (preferably left) during the third trimester of your pregnancy (from 28 weeks) will also reduce your risk of stillbirth. This includes both night sleep and naps.
When you are sleeping on your back, the weight of your baby and womb can put too much pressure on your main blood vessels that supply the uterus and restrict the blood flow and oxygen to your baby.
Don't worry if you wake up on your back, just turn onto your side before you go back to sleep.
Monitor your baby’s movements
Paying attention to your baby’s movements will help you become aware if there are changes. Changes might mean that your baby is unwell and you should speak with your midwife or doctor, or go to your hospital.
Babies reduce their movements when they feel unwell, this is because they are trying to conserve their energy. Around half of the mothers that have a stillbirth notice a slowdown in their babies’ movements.
If you are aware of your baby’s pattern of movements, you will be able to detect when these change. Going to the hospital at this time can make a difference for your baby.
Attend your antenatal care appointments
Do not miss any of your antenatal appointments. This is the only way to monitor you and your baby properly and spot and treat problems early on.
Midwives and doctors will check your baby’s growth and development in your antenatal appointments, and they will also test for signs of maternal conditions which have been associated with stillbirth, such as pre-eclampsia or diabetes.
Maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy
It is best to be a healthy weight before becoming pregnant. Obesity during pregnancy can cause complications and increases the risk of stillbirth.
If you are pregnant and worried about your weight, get advice from your GP or midwife about managing your weight with a healthy diet and staying active during your pregnancy.
Avoid contact with sick people when pregnant and be informed about how to avoid infections during pregnancy.
Tell your midwife about any bleeding, stomach pains or any other symptoms that are worrying you.
Tell your midwife about any itching you might be feeling. Itching can be a sign of a liver disorder that has been associated with an increased risk of stillbirth, but with careful management most babies are unaffected.
Get a flu vaccine when available during your pregnancy.
Take folic acid
Take folic acid before conception to reduce the risks of spina bifida. This should be continued during the whole first trimester.
Your midwife or obstetrician can advise you on other vitamins or supplements that might benefit you during your pregnancy.