In an effort to learn more about the cause of stillbirths, an Eden Prairie nonprofit is asking for health data from women who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
The Star Legacy Foundation this month announced the Pregnancy Research Project, a partnership with the University of Michigan to identify racial, economic, geographic and other factors that might increase the risk of mothers losing babies late in pregnancy.
“Pregnancy loss is among the most understudied issues in modern medicine, and this project has the potential to change that,” said Lindsey Wimmer, the foundation’s executive director, and a mother who experienced a stillbirth.
Stillbirths, or fetal deaths, occur when infants die after at least 20 weeks in the womb. Deaths that occur at earlier gestational ages are usually called miscarriages. Stillbirths occur in only one out of 200 pregnancies, but the numbers aren’t improving in Minnesota. Around 400 are reported in the state each year — and the rate has slightly worsened.
The partnership will collect data from women 18 or older who have experienced stillbirths, delivered live births in the past five years, or are at least 12 weeks pregnant. Participants will complete online surveys and consent to a review of their medical records.
A Michigan database will retain the information, which will be available (without identifying information about the patients) to researchers worldwide. Wimmer said a dozen researchers already plan to use the database to study the causes of stillbirths and ways to prevent them.
Known risk factors including being black or 35 or older; coming from low-income households; smoking during pregnancies; having multiple births; or having medical conditions such as obesity or high blood pressure. Minnesota has seen a decline in the number of pregnant smokers in recent years. The number of multiple births in Minnesota peaked in 2009 and has since declined.
Wimmer said the goal is to understand the specific aspects of these risk factors that cause stillbirths: “If someone already has a pregnancy that is complicated by obesity, then what can we do to reduce the risk?”