Pregnancy is a time full of excitement and anticipation for every expectant family - which is exactly what makes it so difficult to even think about the subject of loss.
But for six families a day in Australia, it becomes a painful reality due to stillbirth.
It's a cruel and unreasonable circumstance when parents-to-be and their wider families are faced with death at a time that should be all about hope, optimism and welcoming a new life.
A stillbirth doesn't only impact the parents but affects family and loved ones who were also excitedly awaiting the new arrival.
There is still a lot of misinformation around this issue and long-standing myths that seem to survive generations, so it's important that both clinicians and the general public are armed with the right data.
While it can't always be prevented, there are some key actions that can help reduce the risk of stillbirth which include:
- Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoking during pregnancy is a significant risk factor for stillbirth.
- If you feel a decrease in baby's movement, it could be a sign that your baby is unwell. Contact your maternity care professional immediately. Don't believe the myths - babies do not stop moving towards the end of pregnancy.
- Sleep on your side from 28 weeks to reduce the risk of stillbirth when compared to sleeping on your back.
Understandably, it's an incredibly tough topic for clinicians and caregivers to raise with pregnant women, but we know that reluctance to discuss it is part of the problem.
While practitioners might be worried about making patients anxious, research has shown that discussing difficult issues like stillbirth improves education, rather than increasing anxiety.
In order to help reduce the rates of stillbirth in Australia, we need to make sure everyone is empowered with knowledge and offered the appropriate support.
Although some of the prevention advice is already understood, lesser known are the actions women can take.
For women who smoke in pregnancy, they most likely know that this might affect them and their baby so it's not enough to simply tell women to stop smoking.
They need to be met with understanding and compassion while being shown a pathway to breaking the habit.
Similarly with sleeping positions, many women are unaware of the potential benefit of going to sleep on their side.
In order for pregnant women to be able to adopt these behaviours, it's important they're given practical advice to help achieve a change.
In my experience as both a clinician and researcher, the topic of baby's movement at the later stages of pregnancy is the area with most misinformation.
It is important for pregnant women and those around them to understand that the notion of babies slowing down their movements due to reduced space is not true.
Babies' movements gradually increase from when they are first felt and then tend to plateau around 32 weeks and remain similar in later pregnancy.
Women should not hesitate to contact their maternity care professionals if something feels different for them.
If we are to help reduce the rate of stillbirths, it's really important that all women feel welcomed by healthcare professionals and are confident enough to present if they feel even the slightest difference.
Australia's rate of stillbirth is still at an unacceptably high level - but, hopefully as more and more people become informed and empowered with this information via initiatives such as Still Six Lives, we will start to see an increased shift toward fewer cases.
My overall advice to all pregnant women, their partners and their loved ones is to make sure they seek help as soon as anything feels not quite right.
We're extremely privileged in Australia that health services are available 24/7 and, mostly, for free.
When it comes to pregnancy, no one should ever feel as though they're wasting staff's time.
Adrienne Gordon, neonatologist and clinical professor at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and University of Sydney, in support of the Still Six Lives campaign.
- For more details, visit https://preventstillbirth.org.au