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Lifestyle change ‘key to reducing UK rate of stillbirths’

By Ellie Broughton

Experts have called for GPs to encourage mothers-to-be to live a healthier lifestyle before they conceive, in order to reduce the level of stillbirths.

The series of studies in the Lancet show in the UK there were around 4,100 stillbirth deaths in 2009 – equivalent to eleven a week. In global terms the UK comes 33rd out of 192, with Finland, Germany and the USA all ranking higher.

The difference between the best- and worst-performing UK regions was significant, with the rate of stillbirths in the East Midlands 33% higher than in the South West.

A third of stillbirths have no obvious cause, but the reports called for doctors to try and tackle maternal obesity to reduce antepartum stillbirth.

Dr Tony Falconer, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: 'The rise in obesity is a serious issue and women need to be encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle before conception to ensure the best outcome for them and their baby.'

'Although we have good information about the social demographics of stillbirth, we need to know more about the pathology of stillbirth and more research in this area is needed.'

Professor Gordon Smith, head of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology, Cambridge University and chair of the RCOG's stillbirth clinical study group, said: 'The majority of stillbirths in the UK could be prevented if we had better means of detecting babies at risk. This Lancet series outlines the scope of the problem and the priorities for research.'

'But addressing these research questions will require funding. Given the magnitude of the problem and the gains that are available through preventing such losses, I hope funding agencies will take this on board and provide the resources required.'

More on the link between obesity and stillbirth

Click here to find out more about the link between obesity and stillbirth in our 'Key questions on obesity' CPD.

Antenatal check-up