• Women from lower socio-economic families face twice the risk of delivering a stillborn baby than their wealthier counterparts, a new Australian-led study has found. (AAP)Source: AAP
Women from lower socio-economic families face twice the risk of delivering a stillborn baby than their wealthier counterparts, a new Australian-led study has found.
By
Yasmin Noone

19 Jan 2016 - 10:30 AM  UPDATED 19 Jan 2016 - 10:31 AM

The poorest women in Australia are at the most at risk of delivering a stillborn baby, according to new research findings out today, which show that the difference between the life and death of an unborn child could be an expectant mother’s level of wealth.

Australian-led research, published in The Lancet, states that women from lower socio-economic families in high-income countries like Australia face twice the risk of delivering a stillborn than wealthier females.

Researcher and member of the International Stillbirth Alliance, Philippa Middleton told SBS Life that women living in households that earn the bottom 20 per cent of Australia’s wealth are most likely to give birth to a baby showing no signs of life from 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Women living in households that earn the bottom 20 per cent of Australia’s wealth are most likely to give birth to a baby showing no signs of life from 28 weeks of pregnancy.

This ‘at risk’ group of women, she said, includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and refugee women on low incomes.

“We can’t call ourselves a fair society if we have this disparity,” said Ms Middleton from University of Adelaide’s School of Pediatrics and Reproductive Health.

Ms Middleton added that high rates of diabetes, smoking and obesity prevalent in certain cultural groups are also factors associated with both low socioeconomic status and a heightened risk of stillbirth.

For example, she explained, diabetes is common in South East Asian populations and high rates of smoking are common Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

“The disadvantaged are also less empowered to make choices and, in general, have less awareness about the risks of obesity and stillbirth.”

A lack of culturally sensitive health care and culturally appropriate interpreters available to assist with communication between a woman and her care provider during the course of a pregnancy could also influence a woman’s risk of delivering a stillborn baby.

“But it also depends on factors like whether you intended to become pregnant, have access to health services and your total disposable income.”

The study, part of The Lancet’s ‘Ending Preventable Stillbirths’ series, estimates that 98 per cent of the world’s 2.6 million stillbirths each year occur in low and middle-income countries.

It looked at stillbirths across 49 high-income countries and showed that Australia’s stillbirth rates are significantly higher than the best-performing developed countries, like the Netherlands.

The research calculated around 2.6 million stillbirths in 2015 across the globe, with half of all stillbirths occurring during labour and birth.

Australia records around 3,000 stillbirths every year and is ranked fifteenth among its fellow wealthy countries. New Zealand was rated tenth.

The research calculated around 2.6 million stillbirths in 2015 across the globe, with half of all stillbirths occurring during labour and birth.

Substandard care was partly to blame for 20 to 30 per cent of recorded stillbirths in high-income countries.

Associate Professor Vicki Flenady from the Mater Research Institute at the University of Queensland was also involved in the study.

She said that nearly 20,000 stillbirths could have been prevented globally in 2015.

“High income countries like Australia should not be ignored,” said A/Prof Flenady, a member of the International Stillbirth Alliance.

“What we need to do to make a difference and reduce the numbers of deaths. So we call for action to end preventable stillbirth deaths by 2030.

“We estimate we could prevent 200 families suffering the loss of a stillbirth after 28 weeks if we could bring our rates down.”

We estimate we could prevent 200 families suffering the loss of a stillbirth after 28 weeks if we could bring our rates down.

Professor Fran Boyle from the School of Public Health at the University of Queensland said preventative action must be taken now and involve a change in public attitudes towards stillbirth

“Almost half of the parents surveyed [who experienced a stillbirth] said they encountered a view of ‘forget about it, move on and have another child,” Professor Boyle said.

“They often reported feeling unable to talk about it because of negative perceptions surrounding stillbirths, and a common feeling that the mother did something to cause her baby to die.”

The researchers added that improvements in antenatal and prenatal care, better training for health professionals on how to reduce risk, and action to tackle the determinants of poverty (housing, education, access to health services) could help reduce stillbirth rates.

High quality national audits of stillbirth should be introduced, as well as education surrounding autopsies for families following a stillbirth so that scientists can determine ‘why’ a baby died early and give grieving parents closure. 

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