App hopes to reduce stillbirths by 30 per cent

Wednesday 31 October 2018

A new mobile phone app being trialled at Mater Mothers’ Hospital Brisbane aims to reduce the rate of stillbirth in Australia by 30 per cent by focusing on a baby’s kicks.

In the wake of the Senate Inquiry into Stillbirth, Professor Vicki Flenady of Mater Research Institute-University of Queensland (MRI-UQ) said Mater Mothers is committed to stillbirth research and prevention.

“In addition to the more than 10 000 babies born at Mater Mothers every year, we provide care to several hundred women who will experience a miscarriage and more than 100 mothers who will not take their baby home.

“Stillbirth is not a rare event. It affects more than 2,000 Australian families each year, yet many stillbirths are preventable.”

The My Baby’s Movements app, developed by the Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence through MRI-UQ was developed in consultation with pregnant women and women who have experienced stillbirth.

“We know so many women have pregnancy apps but this one is based on the best available research and has been developed with pregnant women and clinicians at Mater Mothers.

Prof Flenady, who headed up the development team, said the app is all about increasing a mother’s awareness of their baby’s movements and reporting concerns early.

“Stillbirths seem to occur in an apparently healthy and normal mum and baby… and sometimes the only sign that your baby isn’t ok is a decrease in movements,” said Prof Flenady.

“Over half of women who have had a stillbirth reported that their baby slowed down in movements but they didn’t know to do anything about it.”

It’s an important education point for Emerald mum Lizzie Harms. After the birth of son Archie at 30 weeks, Lizzie’s number one concern during her second pregnancy was a premature birth.

“I had a scan at 25 weeks and they said she was measuring small. My husband Craig and I were little bit worried after that. I thought she was kicking … but your mind is very powerful. I remember saying to my husband ‘gosh, she’s so quiet; sometimes I don’t think she is even in there’,” said Lizzie.

“But I guess I didn’t react because I was a bit paranoid that everyone would think I was just nervous, after Archie coming at 30 weeks.”

Tragically, Lizzie and Craig’s baby girl Daisie was stillborn at 27 weeks on 29 February 2016.

“I thought I was going into premature labour and then I went for a scan the next morning and they couldn’t find a heartbeat. She had passed about a week or so before,” said Lizzie.

“We were so focused on premature birth, being in that premature world with Archie. We saw babies born at 24 weeks at Mater Mothers, so it took a lot time to get our head around that—we knew that babies of that gestation could survive.”

Lizzie recalls warning signs throughout the pregnancy with Daisie but she didn’t know to think anything of them.

“People think ‘oh you should know’ … but unless you’re quiet and lay down and actually feel their kicks, you don’t know.

“So having that app for the third pregnancy was really helpful. I started using the app at 28 weeks and felt at ease as soon as I started using it. There were many moments I’d wake up and think I can’t feel a kick ... and that reassurance or prompt to seek medical attention can be all it takes,” said Lizzie.

“I went into premature labour at 32 weeks with my third. I thought ‘oh no, I haven’t felt bubby’ and it was really that moment that I used the app ... it was probably the reason I went up to the hospital.”

After six weeks on restricted activities, and a 17 week stay at Mater’s patient accommodation, Lizzie gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Dottie, on 22 May at 38 weeks gestation.

Lizzie recalls her first pregnancy and said that she could have never imagined the path her pregnancies have taken.

“You think I’m going to have a baby then I’ll take my baby home in my arms. But stillbirth doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone.

“It’s that education to women to trust your instincts … a baby should be moving. You should know when your baby is active and if it’s not active during that time then something has changed and something is going on,” she said.

“If this app is going to prevent one stillbirth … if a mum can get up to the hospital in time and they can get bubby out... then this app has the chance to really change lives.”

The My Baby’s Movements (MBM) program is being trialled as part of a research study led by the Mater Research Institute-University of Queensland, conducted at 26 different hospitals across Australia and New Zealand. This study will include birth outcome data for almost 300,000 women to see whether the MBM program improves outcomes for mothers and babies.

Please contact your midwife or obstetrician to see if you’re eligible for the trial.