Going to sleep on either side in late pregnancy more than halves stillbirth risk

Going to sleep on either side in late pregnancy more than halves stillbirth risk

An international study co-funded by Red Nose Australia shows that going to sleep on either side in the last three months of pregnancy, can more than halve the risk of stillbirth.

The study, put together from five datasets from across the world that assessed risk factors for stillbirth, has been published in a prestigious Lancet group journal.

Red Nose Australia’s National Scientific Advisory Group Deputy Chair Dr Adrienne Gordon, is one of the principal investigators of the CRIBBS project (collaborative IPD in sleep and stillbirth), and also led the Sydney stillbirth study which is included in the mega-study individual participant data meta-analysis.

The metaanalysis– co-funded by Red Nose Australia and Cure Kids New Zealand and led by Professor Lesley McCowan and PhD candidate and midwife Robin Cronin from the University of Auckland, included 851 bereaved mothers and 2257 women with on-going pregnancies.

Dr Gordon, who is also a neonatologist and Neonatal Staff Specialist with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s Centre for Newborn Care, said the study has confirmed that the risk of stillbirth associated with going to sleep on the back applies to all pregnant women in the last trimester.

“This is a huge break-through for the prevention of stillbirth, which remains one of the greatest challenges in modern obstetric practice,” Dr Gordon said.

“Stillbirth is a national tragedy, which has a devastating and far reaching psychosocial impacts on women, families, caregivers and communities; as well as a wide-ranging economic impact on our health system and society.

“But what we are now able to tell pregnant women is that we know that going to sleep on their side halves the risk of stillbirth, and sleeping on their side is something they can easily do themselves at home.”

Red Nose Chief Executive Officer Keren Ludski welcomed the publication of the research findings.

“Stillbirth is a heartbreaking and devastating tragedy that affects 2200 families in Australia every year. Tragically, six babies die in Australia every day from stillbirth.

“Red Nose Australia made a commitment to Australians impacted by the death of a child that we would find the answers, and research findings such as this is a huge breakthrough.”

“The best ways to support side sleep are being investigated in the Red Nose funded Sleep in Pregnancy Pilot Trial. This research is incredibly vital and has provided us with essential evidence that will inform public health campaign messages recommending sleeping on the side during late pregnancy.

“This has the potential to save hundreds of babies each year.”

Dr Gordon said the increased late stillbirth risk is related to decreased blood flow to the baby by up to 80 per cent, if a pregnant woman sleeps on her back, compared to her side.

The researchers in this international collaboration are from the University of Sydney Australia; the University of Auckland New Zealand, the University of Manchester and the University of Huddersfield in the UK; and the University of Michigan, US as well as representatives from bereaved parent groups.

Key findings

  • Going to sleep lying on the back from 28 weeks of pregnancy increased the risk of stillbirth by 2.6 times
  • This heightened risk occurred regardless of other known risk factors for stillbirth
  • Going to sleep on the back adds to other stillbirth risk factors, for example a baby who is growing poorly in the womb
  • It does not matter which side they chose to settle to sleep on– both left and right sides appear equally safe

Source: Red Nose Australia