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Preventing stillbirth

Not all stillbirths can be prevented, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk.

These include:

  • not smoking
  • avoiding alcohol and drugs during pregnancy – as well as increasing the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, these can seriously affect your baby's development
  • attending all your antenatal appointments so that midwives can monitor the growth and wellbeing of your baby
  • making sure you're a healthy weight before trying to get pregnant
  • protecting yourself against infections and avoiding certain foods – see causes of stillbirth
  • reporting any tummy pain or vaginal bleeding to your midwife on the same day
  • being aware of your baby's movements and reporting any concerns you have to your midwife straightaway
  • reporting any itching to your midwife
  • going to sleep on your side, not on your back

Some of these are discussed in more detail on this page. 

Obesity increases the risk of stillbirth. The best way to protect your health and your baby's wellbeing is to lose weight before becoming pregnant. By reaching a healthy weight, you cut your risk of all the problems associated with obesity in pregnancy.

If you're obese when you become pregnant, your midwife or GP can give you advice about improving your health while pregnant.

Eating healthily and activities such as walking and swimming are good for all pregnant women. Talk to your midwife or doctor before starting a new exercise programme if you weren't active before you got pregnant.

Read more about obesity and pregnancy and exercise during pregnancy.

You'll usually start feeling some movement between weeks 16 and 20 of your pregnancy, although it can sometimes be later than this. These movements may be felt as a kick, flutter, swish or roll. You should continue to feel your baby move up to and during labour.

If you notice your baby is moving less than usual, or there's a change in the pattern of movements, it may be the first sign your baby is unwell. You should contact your midwife or local maternity unit immediately so your baby's wellbeing can be assessed.

There's no specific number of movements that's considered to be normal. What's important is noticing and telling your midwife about any reduction or change in your baby's typical movements.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has produced a leaflet called Your baby's movements in pregnancy (PDF, 138kb) that you may find useful.

There are some foods you should avoid during pregnancy. For example, you shouldn't eat some types of fish or cheese, and you should make sure all meat and poultry is thoroughly cooked.

Read more about the foods to avoid during pregnancy.

Research suggests that going to sleep on your back after 28 weeks of pregnancy can double the risk of stillbirth. It's thought this may be to do with the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby.

The safest position to fall asleep in is on your side, either left or right. Don't worry if you wake up on your back – just turn onto your side before going back to sleep.

During your antenatal appointments, your midwife or GP will monitor your baby's development, growth and position.

You'll also be offered tests, including blood pressure tests and urine tests. These are used to detect any illnesses or conditions, such as pre-eclampsia, that may cause complications for you or your baby. Any necessary treatment can be provided promptly and efficiently.

Read more about antenatal care.