🔴 New Jersey's stillbirth rate is alarming

🔴 The reasons behind a stillbirth remain a mystery

🔴 A state awareness campaign has been launched to educate women

It’s an alarming statistic.

New Jersey has the 6th highest stillbirth rate in the U.S., higher than the national average, according to the 2021 New Jersey State Health Assessment Data Report. About 636 babies died later in pregnancy or during birth in 2021, the most recent data noted.

A stillbirth is defined as the death of a baby in utero any time from the 20th week of pregnancy and beyond, said Ann Mruk, director of professional development and education at The Central Jersey Family Health Consortium.

Despite many advances in obstetrics care, stillbirths can still happen, but unfortunately, it’s not clear why New Jersey’s stillbirth rate, in particular, is still high, she said.

That’s why the state-funded New Jersey stillbirth campaign was launched in October 2023—to increase awareness because many people do not know about them or the risk factors that increase one’s risk of experiencing a stillbirth.

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Who is at risk of a stillbirth?

Everyone. “As our campaign tagline says, ‘stillbirth can happen to any pregnancy.’ And that’s really a vital message of the campaign. Every pregnancy at or beyond 20 weeks is at risk for stillbirth,” Mruk said.

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The Risk Factors

Modified risk factors that can increase a woman’s chances of a stillbirth include obesity, diabetes that’s diagnosed before the pregnancy, chronic hypertension, smoking, alcohol, illicit drug use, pregnancies that are conceived using assisted reproductive technology, poor nutrition, and inadequate pre-natal care.

But there are risk factors that can’t be modified or changed, Mruk said. These include somebody who has had a past history of a stillbirth, somebody who is 35 years old or older, someone who is 19 years old and younger, someone who is not married because that’s an increased stresser, someone who has never given birth to a live baby, or someone who has a multiple gestation such as a twin or triplet pregnancy.

Mruk said if a woman has any of these risk factors, it does not mean she will have a stillbirth. It means she is at a higher risk. If a woman is at a higher risk, she should discuss with her doctor, the assessments, appointments, and the testings needed to properly monitor the pregnancy.

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The NJ Stillbirth Campaign

The goal of the campaign is to reduce the number of stillbirths in New Jersey by raising awareness about the problem.

“It provides education on ways to recognize that something may be wrong, providing important resources to help guide families who are grieving the loss of their stillborn baby, and professionals who are caring for patients who have experienced a stillbirth,” Mruk said.
What they’re finding is that most people are not aware of stillbirths, what it is, and that they may be at risk of having one.

“The New Jersey Stillbirth Awareness Campaign aims to educate birthing families with knowledge of the risk so that they are aware of the warning signs and they act upon them by reaching out to their healthcare provider whatever the time of the day or night. I encourage everyone to look at the resources available at the njstillbirth.org website and help us spread the word that stillbirth can happen to every pregnancy,” Mruk said.

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Training for Maternal Healthcare Workers

Bereavement experts from around the state developed a full day of training for hospital-based nurses, and social workers, Mruk said. However, it was quickly learned that training was needed for home nurses, doulas, and community health workers.

“The program focuses on best practices related to supporting birthing families and families who experienced stillbirths, with an emphasis on improving communication skills, what to say, what’s appropriate, and what not to say,” Mruk said.

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How to Avoid a Possible Stillbirth

While every pregnant woman is at risk of having a stillbirth, Mruk said access to prenatal care in the first trimester is crucial in case some conditions are diagnosed. Managing chronic health conditions is important, she added. If a woman has diabetes or high blood pressure should be treated or managed.

Communicate with your provider. If a woman notices any change in the baby’s movement patterns, if there is bleeding during the second half of the pregnancy, if a woman’s blood sugar is too high or too low, or if she has been exposed to a contagious disease such as COVID-19, chicken pox, or measles—these all require immediate medical attention.


Empowering Women

If women notice a decrease in fetal movement, they must call their health provider immediately. If it’s in the middle of the night or on the weekend when a woman notices a change in fetal movement, she cannot wait until the next day or a Monday to call the doctor, Mruk said.

A change in fetal movement could be an indication something is wrong. Often, the earlier the problem is identified, the better, she said.

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These are the 30 schools in New Jersey that made the most notifications to police during the 2022-23 school year for reasons including violence, weapons, vandalism, substances and harassment or bullying. The number of arrests made by police at the schools is also provided when applicable. The schools are listed by number of police calls from least to greatest. The data comes from the state Department of Education's annual School Performance Report.

Gallery Credit: New Jersey 101.5

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