For the first time, the National Health Service has published new guidelines and advice for doctors, midwives and parents, to address the rising stillbirth rates in the United Kingdom.

Statistics from the NHS show that there is one stillborn baby for every 200 births in the country, with a 25 percent variation across England.

Great Britain, which is comprised of Scotland, England and Wales, ranks 33rd out of 35 developed countries for its stillbirth rates. The rate is twice those of the best performing nations, the NHS said.

So as part of the new guidelines called "Saving Babies' Lives Care Bundle" (PDF), the NHS provided information about kicking the habit of smoking during pregnancy for mothers, keeping track of fetal growth and development for midwives, and monitoring the baby during labor.

"NHS maternity care is now the safest it's ever been, and most moms say they're cared for brilliantly," said NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens. "But that makes it all the more tragic and heart wrenching when for a small number of families something goes terribly wrong."

Stevens said the chances of stillbirths can be cut if all pregnant women are encouraged to quit smoking, if there is proper monitoring during pregnancy, and if maternity providers pay attention when pregnant women report their concerns about their baby's sudden change in movements.

In fact, a report in November 2015 revealed that the lives of stillborn babies could have been saved if hospitals and maternity providers properly followed national pregnancy guidelines, and if maternity units were able to detect problems early on.

The bundle also includes an advice leaflet with information about "reduced fetal movement" or the changes in the movement of the baby inside the womb. It will be given to all expectant moms by week 24 of their gestation.

The agency's initiative aims to reduce the rate of stillbirths in the UK by half within the next 15 years.

The guidelines were developed with the help of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, and the British Maternal and Fetal Medicine Society.

Meanwhile, Royal College of Midwives Chief Executive Cathy Warwick said it is not acceptable that England has a terrible stillbirth rate compared to other countries in Western Europe. She said more midwives were needed to make improvements.

"Midwives and other staff must have the time to spend with women and they must have the time to attend training," said Warwick.

The country is 2,600 midwives short of the number it needs, she said.

"So whilst this guidance is welcome and valuable, we must have the right numbers of staff to ensure it is implemented correctly," added Warwick.

Photo: Sabian Maggy | Flickr

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