June 2015 is the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death (Sands) Awareness Month during which the charity hopes to raise funds to ensure it can continue to supporting bereaved families and researching the causes of stillbirth and neonatal losses. 

Sands was founded in 1978 by a small group of bereaved parents to provide invaluable support to families who have been devastated by the loss of their baby. 

In 2013 approximately 5,700 babies were either stillborn or died shortly after birth (neonatal death). Although this is a frightening number, the awareness of the issues surrounding baby death and the number of deaths is not widely known, particularly to expectant mothers. Therefore, the aim of Sands awareness campaign this month is not just to raise funds to continue its research but to also raise more awareness about the potential causes of stillbirths and neonatal deaths. 

While a large proportion of stillbirth and neonatal deaths are unavoidable, there are a significant proportion of deaths which, sadly, could have been avoidable if expectant mothers had been made aware of the various risk factors and been appropriately monitored throughout their pregnancies. 

Sands launched a report in January 2012 entitled ‘Preventing Babies' Deaths: What needs to be done’. This highlighted the need to: 

  • improve the review of deaths
  • raise awareness of risk
  • improve the process of post mortem consent
  • improve data on death. 

Over the past five years, the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) has spent more than £5 billion settling negligent claims surrounding obstetric care. Although the majority of these negligent claims involve babies who have sustained hypoxic brain injuries during delivery, a large proportion of these claims involve avoidable stillbirth and neonatal deaths.  

POSSIBLE CAUSES

There are a number of causes of stillbirths and, while many people believe that stillbirths result from a developmental or genetic problem, fewer than one in 10 stillbirths is caused by a congenital abnormality. In a large number of stillbirths, the baby appears to be completely healthy and, for around one third of babies, there is no clear cause of death which is described as “unexplained”. 

Some of the well-known causes of stillbirth include: 

  • bleeding before or during labour
  • placental abruption – this is where the placenta separates from the womb before the baby is born
  • pre-eclampsia, which causes high blood pressure in the mother
  • cord prolapse
  • gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy
  • infection.