Multi-centre case control stillbirth study

Understanding the link between sleep position and prolonged sleep in the late stage of pregnancy and stillbirth

Professor Ed Mitchell
University of Auckland

What is the problem?

For every 1000 babies born in New Zealand, tragically, five will be stillborn; born dead after 20 weeks’ gestation. In 2011, 330 babies died as a result of stillbirth, resulting in unimaginable grief for mothers and families.

Stillbirth rates in high income countries vary considerably. Rates are higher in Maori and Pacific babies. This suggests that rates could be reduced. However, so little is known as to the mechanisms and risk factors behind stillbirth, and mothers often blame themselves for the loss of their child.

Recent research undertaken by Cure Kids Chair of Child Health Research at the University of Auckland, Prof Ed Mitchell, has suggested a link between maternal sleep position and risk of stillbirth; namely, there is an associative risk-reduction when mothers sleep on their left hand side.


What is the research hoping to achieve?

A larger, multicentre trial is ongoing to determine if these findings can be repeated, however, a recent 40 per cent drop in rates is suggestive of primary care providers and midwives already imparting the maternal sleeping findings.

The study is also investigating the relationship between other ostensible risk factors including, prolonged sleep and sleeping during the day, among others.

This larger study – encompassing New Zealand’s largest maternity units: Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North and Christchurch – is critical in determining whether these findings are replicable, ensuring the safest possible messaging is imparted to expectant mothers.