Researchers led by the University of Edinburgh have today revealed the results of the largest study on fetal movement awareness to date.

It is also the largest research in the world to investigate fetal movement, combined with a process designed to reduce stillbirth.

If you notice a change in your baby’s movements in the womb, you should seek advice from your midwife or local maternity unit immediately. 

The study – called AFFIRM (Does Promoting Awareness of Fetal movements and Focussing Interventions Reduce Fetal Mortality?) – analysed the results of more than 400,000 pregnancies from 33 hospitals around the UK and Ireland.

The AFFIRM research study aimed to find out if the number of stillbirths are reduced by promoting awareness of fetal movements among pregnant women, and introducing a package of care when women report a change in movements.

Researchers collected information on the number of stillbirths before and after maternity units started using the new package of care.

The results showed a small drop in the stillbirth rate, from 44 in 10,000 births after standard care to around 41 in 10,000 births with the new package of care.

More women in the group who received the package of care has caesarean sections and induction of labour.

Previous research had suggested that encouraging women to pay attention to their babies’ movements, combined with additional checks and early delivery of babies at risk, might help cut rates of stillbirth by 30 per cent. 

The study did not find a significant fall in stillbirths as result of implementing the care package.  The 11% fall in stillbirths may still be important and the study doesn’t rule out the possibility that strategies to improve awareness of reduced fetal movements are effective in reducing stillbirth.

We welcome the study that was published in The Lancet, and was initiated and funded by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office. The research was also part-funded by our donors including charities Teddy’s Wish and Tommy’s.

The study looked at changes in babies’ movements as a warning sign of problems in pregnancy.  Up to half of women whose pregnancy ends in stillbirth report that reduced movements of their babies in the womb in the previous week.

There remains good evidence from other studies that reduced fetal movement is associated with stillbirth. Our Safer Pregnancy website provides further advice. 

Our chief executive, Dr Clea Harmer, said: “Women’s awareness of their baby’s movements remains a key part of public health information during pregnancy.

"At least one in three of the parents Sands supports tells us that their baby’s movements had slowed down or changed in the womb before they died. Getting the message out that women need to report any concerns straightaway remains vital to routine antenatal care.”  

An estimated 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year around the world. In the UK, around one in 200 pregnancies end in stillbirth, around nine babies every day.

For further information and advice on how to stay safe during pregnancy, visit our Safer Pregnancy website.