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‘I wish someone had warned me … at least once’

A close-up of newborn baby feetOctober is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Kristina Keneally has shared her story to help raise awareness and recognise the importance of support for parents who experience the loss of a child.

Think about slip, slop, slap. We constantly warn people of the risks of getting skin cancer.

Think about pictures on cigarette packets. We constantly warn people of the dangers of smoking.

Think about the advice on alcohol. We constantly warn people about the risks of drinking—including the risks of drinking in pregnancy.

Think about all the advice we get every day on how to lower our cholesterol, stave off dementia, stay heart healthy, and give our child the best start in life.

If you have ever been pregnant, or thought about getting pregnant, how often did someone talk to you about the risk of stillbirth? Did anyone give you practical advice on the risk factors and steps you can take to reduce them?

I’m guessing no.

As a society we don’t like talking about stillbirth. It is tragically sad. It is terrifyingly awful. I know. I am the mother of a stillborn daughter, Caroline.

Unlike almost every other health issue, we don’t warn people about the likelihood of stillbirth and we don’t do enough to help them avoid this tragedy.

We should. Stillbirth is remarkably commonplace. Six babies a day in Australia are stillborn. Six babies a day. That’s one in 135 births. That rate has not changed in decades.

Stillbirth is the number one cause of death of children under 12 months in Australia. In around 40 per cent of cases the cause of the baby’s death will never be known.

FORUM: Find support in our Support After Stillbirth forum section.

Compared with other significant causes of death in Australia, there is a paucity of public attention and government funding focused on stillbirth.

Think of all the advice we give parents about Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI), another tragedy. About 70 babies a year in Australia die of SUDI, a number that has dropped significantly thanks to research and prevention. About 2000 babies will die of stillbirth this year in Australia, and we give very little advice to parents about stillbirth or how to help prevent it. Partly because there is much we don’t know; partly because we just would rather not talk about it.

I wish someone had talked to me about it. Kristina Keneally and her stillborn daughter Caroline

I didn’t fit the risk categories: I was young, non-smoking, fit, and had already given birth to a very healthy baby when I was told that my second child, Caroline, was not going to survive her birth. I was utterly distraught and completely unprepared. There were multiple decisions I had to make, almost immediately, in grief and confusion.

Though my husband and I did the best we could, in hindsight I wish that just once before this happened that a doctor, midwife, pregnancy book, someone had said to us—stillbirth is a real risk in pregnancy, it can happen and here are some things you may want to think about, just in case it does.

As a former patron of Stillbirth Foundation Australia, I have heard stories of women whose babies were stillborn where, possibly, just a little bit of advice or preventative action (like fetal movement monitoring or delivering early in certain risk categories) might have made the crucial difference.

I know that we don’t do anywhere near enough research to give sufficient advice to pregnant women. I know there is so much more we can do if only we had funding.

The dramatic drop in the rate of SUDI is an example of how Australian research, education and prevention saved thousands of children’s lives here and overseas. It gives me hope that one day Australia will put the same focused attention on stillbirth.

In the meantime, my first wish is for every expectant mother in Australia to give birth to a healthy baby. My second wish is that the doctors, midwives and others who care for them talk to them—at least once— about stillbirth.


-The Hon Kristina Keneally, Patron, Stillbirth Foundation Australia, mother of Caroline

About Kristina Keneally

The Hon Kristina Keneally is an advocate for the stillbirth cause and a former patron of the Stillbirth Foundation Australia. She is a mother of three, including daughter Caroline who was stillborn. Kristina was the 42 ...

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9 Comments so far -
  • KEve says:

    I am so very sorry this happened to you. However I do think the risk of miscarriage and still birth is communicated everywhere, at least it was for me. I had my baby girl 4 months ago and did not enjoy my pregnancy at all as I was constantly terrified of having a miscarriage or still birth. I didn’t set up the nursery, buy baby clothes or even nursing clothes as I thought the risk of still birth was so high I didn’t want to jinx it. I was constantly thinking about it and hated talking about ‘when the baby arrives’ as I thought there was no point talking about the baby until she was actually here. I regularly cried, no sobbed, as I was so scared and anxious that I wouldn’t deliver a healthy, living baby. People were always talking to me about friends they knew who had a still birth and anything I researched online ended up coming up with messages about miscarriage and how common and normal it is to have one.
    I completely agree that the message needs to get out there, but I’m not sure how to find a balance. As I said, my pregnancy was full of fear and I had a normal, risk free pregnancy.

    • Hi KEve- Thanks for your message and congratulations on your new baby. Am sorry to hear that your pregnancy was full of fear. You’re exactly right – it is a very delicate balance to achieve between educating people and scaring people. We often have to find that balance across many issues we touch on here at the Bub Hub. It is so important to inform pregnant woman of the risks especially when there are things those woman could be doing to lower those risks- eg, stop smoking. But is also important that these conversations are fact-based and placed well in perspective so that women don’t become anxious and stressed out unnecessarily. It is our aim to get the balance right for our readers 🙂

      Thanks again for your comment. Take care x

  • True says:

    What are the ways they can be prevented. ?

    • Hi True, thanks for your question. We have now added a new link into the article for people to go if they want more information.

      There are a number of things that can increase the likelihood of stillbirth. So it is important to know what those things are so that you can take action to lessen the risk.

      A few things that can help reduce the risk of stillbirth are:

      – Maintain good health during pregnancy including managing your weight and avoid smoking, alcohol and drug-taking.
      – Make sure you attend all your antenatal appointments, take the necessary antenatal screening tests and receive good maternity care.
      – Fetal monitoring, including fetal movement counting
      – Early detection and treatment for gestational diabetes and high blood pressure
      – Consideration of induction in certain risk categories

      There is more information in this article: https://www.bubhub.com.au/what-is-stillbirth-causes-risk-factors-and-preventative-measures/

      Thanks again xx

  • Tyne says:

    Hi Kristina – a great article about a subject many consider taboo, yet one that really needs to be talked about. I have been working with a midwife, Kristy, who has been raising money to purchase Cold Cuddle Cots – used for families who’s babies are born sleeping. She is doing a really great job of not only raising money (with the aim to have one in every maternity hospital in WA), but also to give this subject a voice. She is working alongside Shannon, who’s son Lincoln was stillborn (who inspired Kristy in the first place). They are both so passionate and such good advocates for starting the conversation. If you, or any other readers are interested in more information – visit her FaceBook page – A Midwifes Gift. We are working hard to get this conversation happening!

  • Nitzerette says:

    Yes, it was touched on by my obstetrician. She said I was not allowed to go past my due date, that she would book me into a c-section, as she didn’t want to chance a stillbirth after me going through 5 years of IVF, a couple of miscarriages and a whole lot of heartbreak.

    • Nitzerette says:

      Plus, I had read quite a few posts by women who had experienced it, so maybe that made me more aware when the doctor mentioned it, rather than just putting it to the back of my mind during pregnancy euphoria 🙂

  • Kate says:

    No one ever discussed the risk of stillbirth. We had 2 children 18 months apart then experienced to miscarriages at 10 and 12 weeks. Went on to have a healthy baby then experienced a stillbirth at 20 weeks, our daughter Molly Kathleen. We then went on to have 3 more healthy children. We have 6 living children and not once were we ever told of any risks of stillbirth. We were rudely told after our miscarriages by the doctor we were seeing that out of every three pregnant women he saw each day at least one would end in miscarriage. Like that was supposed to be reassuring to us. Even after all of that we stillbirth was never discussed.

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