Stillbirth is the death of a baby before or during birth, born at 20 or more weeks of gestation, or at 400 grams or more birth weight. States and territories register a stillbirth after 20 weeks as a birth and issue a birth certificate.
Some of you will know that twenty-one years ago I gave birth to my daughter, Caroline, who was born still.
Since then, in over two decades, the rate of stillbirth in Australia has not changed despite all the other advances in maternal and foetal health.
Six babies a day are stillborn in Australia.
In those twenty years, some 44,000 babies, who were wanted and loved by their parents, were lost to us.
Quite tragically, they were lost to us in large part – a large number of them – because stillbirth has been considered a private tragedy rather than a public health problem. Stillbirth has long been a taboo topic, and the silence surrounding it has contributed to the lack of research, funding and education to reduce the rate of stillbirth in Australia.
There are multiple factors that can contribute to a stillbirth, but even so, some 22% of stillbirths remain unexplained. There are steps mothers and clinicians can take to reduce stillbirth, including mothers’ sleeping on their side when pregnant, monitoring foetal movements for changes, and measuring foetal growth rates.
This does not need to be the case. Countries like The Netherlands and Scotland have made significant reductions in their stillbirth rate, by changing the advice provided to parents and clinicians, and by thoroughly investigating every stillbirth.
Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education
Shortly after I jointed the Senate, my colleagues and I worked to establish the Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education – the first of its kind.
You can read the Committee's report here.
We handed down sixteen recommendations to reduce the rate of stillbirth in Australia and support bereaved families, including:
- A National Stillbirth Action Plan
- Development of a standardised national data collection
- Properly funding research and innovations including a national biobank
- Provisions for cultural and linguistic appropriate care and bereavement support
- Employment standards and leave provisions for bereaved parents
In response to the Committee’s recommendations, a Draft Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan was established. The Plan was open for public consultation until 10 July 2020. The feedback collected is currently being reviewed.
I, along with my Labor colleagues, will continue to advocate for implementation of the Committee's sixteen recommendations.
We are working to ensure that Australian research, education and training, counselling and data-collection rise to the standards Australians expect.
Stillbirth Foundation Australia - After my time as NSW Premier and before becoming a Senator for NSW, I was a patron of the Stillbirth Foundation. The Stillbirth Foundation is the only Australian charity dedicated to stillbirth research, and it is 100% community funded.
Stillbirth Centre for Research Excellence - The Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth (Stillbirth CRE) has been established to address the tragedy of stillbirth in Australia through a cohesive national program of research and implementation.
Still Aware - Australia's stillbirth awareness charity, supporting a safer pregnancy through education and awareness programs nation-wide.
Sands - Miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death support.
As always, you can contact my office here.