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Our chance to highlight risks facing expectant mothers

Baby charities say the UK's stillbirth, neonatal death and maternal death rates are too high. Lisa Salmon reports on a new campaign to educate mums-to-be about potential pregnancy danger factors.

A shocking 15 babies a day die before, during or soon after birth in the UK, and although some of these tragic deaths are unavoidable, many could be prevented.

In addition, the UK has among the worst rates of maternal death in the developed world.

With such worrying figures, it's easy to understand why Best Beginnings, a charity that works to give children the best start in life, has launched an educational campaign to help reduce stillbirths and neonatal and maternal deaths.

The Our Chance campaign, which is run jointly with the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, and supported by the model and presenter Abbey Clancy, aims to give mums-to-be advice about what to look out for during pregnancy that could indicate the health of the baby or the mother is at risk.

"Pregnancy can be exciting or daunting, or even both at the same time," says mother-of-two Clancy, "but at the end of it, our only hope is that we'll be fine and, most importantly, we'll have healthy babies.

"Sadly, things don't always go to plan, but the good news is, there's so much we can do to reduce the risk of anything going wrong for us and for our babies."

Alison Baum, chief executive of Best Beginnings, points out that the UK has a much higher stillbirth, neonatal death and maternal death rate than it should.

"The campaign is making sure regular parents across the country have the knowledge and information they need to reduce the risk of their baby dying or being stillborn, with a particular focus on making sure we reach young mums and mums from black and ethnic minority groups, which are much more likely to have a baby die or for the mother to die."

The campaign is a key element of the government's Maternity Safety Action Plan, which aims to halve the rates of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries that occur during or shortly after birth, by 2030.

Our Chance includes a series of 25 short films and personal stories told by women who've experienced problems in pregnancy or just after, ranging from the importance of going to antenatal classes, to the risks from smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

One of the women in the films is Shedenise, who gave up smoking when she got pregnant because of the risks to her unborn child, and another is Shareen, who had itchy hands during pregnancy which turned out to be a symptom of the dangerous liver condition Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP), which can lead to premature labour and stillbirth.

An Our Chance survey found that key warning signs of ICP and other dangerous conditions like pre-eclampsia are likely to be ignored by pregnant women.

Indeed, 47.9% of respondents thought sudden swelling of the ankles, hands and feet - pre-eclampsia symptoms - was common, and 42.5% believed itchy hands and feet - a sign of ICP - was normal.

In addition, the survey found 58% of women thought a watery vaginal discharge was common or fairly normal during pregnancy, and almost 40% admitted they'd be unlikely to seek advice about it.

Plus 28% of mothers-to-be think vaginal bleeding is common during pregnancy, when actually it can be a warning sign of miscarriage.

Baum says another key warning sign of potential pregnancy problems is reduced foetal movement.

"There are some myths out there - some people believe babies move less in the latter stages of pregnancy, but that's not true. Your baby shouldn't reduce its movement towards the latter end of the pregnancy.

"So if you think your baby's moving less than normal, seek help. Don't worry quietly at home, but see your midwife or doctor."

Although a great deal of maternity care focuses on the physical aspects of pregnancy, the mental health of the mother is also vital, says Baum, who points out that a quarter of maternal deaths in the UK are from mental health problems and suicide.

"If we're really going to reduce stillbirth, neonatal death and maternal death nationally, we have to inform and empower regular people and give them the knowledge and confidence to speak up when they need it, and make the right lifestyle choices," she says.

"This is an opportunity for issues to be picked up sooner, and it could save your or your baby's life."

There are a number of warning signs that shouldn't be ignored, whatever the stage of your pregnancy, says the Our Chance campaign. They include:

  • A change in the baby's movements
  • Signs of bleeding or watery discharge
  • Significant swelling of the hands, feet and face
  • Excessive itchiness (especially at night)
  • Blurred vision
  • Persistent and severe headache.

For more information about the Our Chance campaign, and to watch the videos, visit ourchance.org.uk

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