Stillbirth is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies that a family must endure – and it is still far more common than it should be in the United States. In fact, a new study has found that at least one-quarter of all stillbirths can be prevented. When one also considers that the rate of stillbirths has leveled out in the U.S., even though places like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands continue to see declines, it becomes clear that something more should be done to help families avoid the loss of a child.
“We’ve essentially plateaued relative to other high-income countries with similar demographics,” study author Dr. Robert Silver, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, told HuffPost.
Researchers made their determination in a national study that, for the first time, considered the notion of “preventable” stillbirths – ones that could be prevented if mothers received better care. Problems with the placenta, maternal health problems, and multiple births were the most common factors that they associated with stillbirth in the United States. At least one-fourth of them could have been prevented with proper screening a proactive approach when complications do arise. For example, if a mother that has high blood pressure, she should be monitored closely for complications so that a cesarean can be performed. In most cases, this can save both the mother and baby from fatality. Yet, according to Silver, hypertension issues were linked to at least half of all the stillbirths in the U.S. An estimated 8 percent were linked to issue that arose during labor and delivery.
“The three that are the lowest hanging fruit — in other words, the three that there are really, really good treatments that we know about today, but due to access or implementation we aren’t doing enough — are intrapartum stillbirth (so during labor); hypertensive disorders of pregnancy; and medical complications of pregnancy,” Silver said.
Still, there are other issues at hand. For example, Silver says that the most recent estimates involving stillbirth show that low-income families are at the greatest risk. Women with public insurance – even those that are not especially low income – are also at an increased risk of stillbirth, according to the statistics. Silver claims that it is partly because these physicians do not always have access to the tools and resources that are needed to reduce the risk.
“A lot of it has to do with access,” Silver said. “I think that our ceiling is higher than a some other countries, but our floor is lower as a consequence of our health care system. So we can do a lot of really awesome things that other people can’t do, like heart transplants and stuff like that, but then we also have people with no or limited access who end up falling through the cracks.”
Of course, testing can be sketchy in any setting, despite the advancements that medicine has made, because we are still working to understand the core issues behind miscarriage and stillbirth.
“The problem, right now, is that our methods for screening for the placenta not working are relatively crude,” he said. “And they’re not very precise … so what we have to do is focus on developing better tests.”
Here is to hoping that science and medicine take this study seriously and begin to consider how we, as a country, can reduce the number of babies lost to stillbirth.