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New research trial on back sleeping for pregnant women

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The Red Nose organisation has long been a reliable source for early childhood services, as well as families all over Australia.  Instrumental from its earliest days in research to prevent ‘cot death’, Red Nose continues to fund life-saving research, advocacy and public education about all forms of sudden, unexpected deaths in infancy.

The most recent news from Red Nose focuses on promising trials in side-sleeping vs back-sleeping in reducing the risk of stillbirths.  Early childhood educators and directors are often in contact with pregnant women and often maintain their knowledge of current advice affecting not just children in their care, but the children yet to come.

Read on to compare the results of strong public advice campaigns in the Netherlands and Scotland, compared to the less defined guides to sleeping for pregnant women in Australia.

New research trial

The Red Nose National Scientific Advisory Group convened its inaugural research series today in Melbourne to share the latest studies around Sudden and Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI).

A key finding to be presented at the series is that recent research is that women who sleep on their backs are more likely to have a stillborn baby in later pregnancy, compared to those who sleep on their sides.

The Sleep in Pregnancy Pilot Trial, led by researcher Dr Adrienne Gordon, of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, University of Sydney, is funded through a Red Nose research grant.

The trial aims to identify whether advising pregnant women to settle to sleep on their side works, and will inform public health campaign messages and the advice that clinicians provide.

“…the stillbirth rate in Australia was unacceptably high.”

Research that saves babies

It is one of several research projects presented at the Red Nose inaugural Research Series.

“In Australia, six babies die each day from stillbirth, and by targeting easily modifiable risk factors, such as a woman’s going to sleep position in late pregnancy, we can potentially save hundreds of babies each year,” Dr Gordon says.

Professor Craig Pennell, Head of Red Nose’s National Scientific Advisory Group and principal researcher with the Hunter Medical Research Institute, said the stillbirth rate in Australia was unacceptably high.

“Through research and education, there is potential for Australia to make huge inroads into reducing the stillbirth rate, which is currently a significant health issue in Australia,” he said.

“We have seen this in other countries such as Scotland where successful strategies have been implemented, dramatically reducing the rate of stillbirth.”

Stillbirth is a national issue.

Earlier this year, Red Nose contributed to the Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education, submitting this paper comparing Australia’s ‘unacceptably high’ rates of stillbirth to international counterparts.

“When preparing our submission we noted the successful strategies implemented by our international counterparts and saw through their success; real potential for Australia to make significant inroads into reducing the stillbirth rate,” the paper states.

“After discussions with The Chief Medical Officer of Scotland, Dr Catherine Calderwood, we were able to unpack an efficient and effective approach that could easily be tailored to Australian needs.”

Red Nose’s submission outlines a program with five key prevention strategies:

  • Patient education campaign – that stillbirth can happen to anyone and that some are preventable
  • Implementation of a new package to reduce smoking in pregnancy across all maternity units in Australia
  • Raising awareness for reduced fetal movement
  • Risk assessment and fetal surveillance for fetal growth restriction
  • The implementation of a new Perinatal Mortality Review Tool

Compare outcomes overseas

According to Red Nose, other countries have “decided” that reducing stillbirth is a National issue.

  1. The Netherlands initiated a Nationwide wide stillbirth initiative in 2001 resulting in a 55% reduction in stillbirth over 14 years.
  2. The Chief Medical Officer of Scotland initiated a government led, Nationwide, stillbirth initiative in 2011 resulting in a 22% reduction in stillbirth over 5 years; their next target is a 35% reduction.
  3. The United Kingdom has initiated a Nationwide stillbirth initiative in 2018; their target for 2025 is a 25% reduction in stillbirth.

Migrant women have greater risk of stillborn babies

The Red Nose Research Series for the first time brings together leading Australian researchers and health professionals who are working toward reducing the unacceptably high loss of lives to both stillbirth and sudden and unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), which includes SIDS.

This includes research from The University of Western Australia that has recently discovered women living in WA who are migrants or from non-white backgrounds are more at risk of having a stillbirth baby.

“We are making great strides into research in Australia, and now we need to further this research into the development of prevention strategies and actions to drive findings into practice,” Professor Pennell said.

“However this last 15 per cent of SUDI deaths is where our focus now needs to be.

 These deaths are the hardest to solve, and more investment into research is needed to find the answers.”

The Research Series will also highlight the past, present and future research of sudden and unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), which has seen an 85 per cent reduction in these deaths since public health campaigns commenced in 1990.

“Thanks to research and education undertaken by Red Nose, Australia has seen an 85 per cent decrease in SUDI, which is an estimated 10,000 lives saved,” Professor Pennell said.

“However this last 15 per cent of SUDI deaths is where our focus now needs to be. These deaths are the hardest to solve, and more investment into research is needed to find the answers.”

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