In 2011 a research team in New Zealand completed a small study that looked at mothers’ activities, symptoms and problems in pregnancies. It found links between the risk of stillbirth and babies’ movements, the mothers’ sleep position, cigarette smoking and the detection of small babies. These results are very interesting, but further work is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn. The NZ research team have now joined with researchers in England to repeat the study in the UK and test whether these factors really have an effect on stillbirth risk and whether there is any relationship between them. This will help develop a public health campaign for mothers.
In the new study, called the Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Study (MiNeSS), around 400 women who had a stillbirth at or after 28 weeks of their pregnancy (a single baby without a congenital abnormality) will complete an in-depth questionnaire and talk to a research midwife about their sleeping habits and other aspects of their pregnancy. Their answers will be compared with those of a group of similar women who had healthy babies to see if there are important differences in the habits or experiences of the two groups. The study design is called a case—control (meaning it’s comparing the groups of ‘cases’, the women who had stillbirths, with the ‘controls’, the women who had healthy babies).
Dr Alexander Heazell, who is based at the University of Manchester and St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, is leading the study. Other researchers are Dr Tomasina Stacey at Dewsbury Hospital, Yorkshire, Dr Bill Martin at Birmingham Women’s Hospital and Dr Devender Roberts at Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Professor Ed Mitchell and Professor Lesley McCowan at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, are also in the research team; they, together with Dr Stacey, carried out the New Zealand study mentioned at the start.
Recruitment started in July 2014 and was initially planned to finish in December 2015. The researchers found that maternity units were keen to take part, and so applied for extra funding to extend the study period by 6 months so that more women could be included. Having more women in the study will make the results more reliable.
The study has been funded through a partnership between Action Medical Research, Cure Kids and Sands. Sands has contributed £50,000 to the overall funding.
The protocol for MiNESS is reported here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2393/14/171
The New Zealand stillbirth study is reported here: Stacey T, Thompson JM, Mitchell EA et al. Association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth: a case-control study. BMJ 2011;342:d3403.