Dandenong Hospital midwives help cut stillbirth rate to record low

Registered Midwife Jessica Forrer stands holding baby Jacob Wodeka, with his mother Karolina Wodecka standing behind them holding her belly.

A group of wonderful midwives have led targeted work to improve healthcare outcomes for women and their unborn babies at Dandenong Hospital.

The group took part in a challenge to reduce stillbirths as part of Safer Care Victoria’s Safer Baby Collaborative, which involved hospitals pledging to reach a 30 per cent reduction.

Pleasingly, Dandenong Hospital achieved an incredible 30 per cent reduction in the stillbirth rate over two years, meeting the target that all hospitals pledged to meet.

Registered Midwife Jessica Forrer, who was part of the team at Dandenong, said it was great to see their hard work pay off.

“It was so good to be a part of the team when achieving that, and seeing the other midwives Sarah and Karen put in so much work was amazing,” she said.

“It’s been going on for the past two years, so it was a really huge achievement to see our hard work make a difference.”

Clinical midwife specialist Sarah Burke (left) and Registered Midwife Jessica Forrer (right) played a key role in reducing the stillbirth rate.

Clinical midwife specialist Sarah Burke (left) and Registered Midwife Jessica Forrer (right) played a key role in reducing the stillbirth rate.

The team worked on five elements to reduce stillbirths during the collaborative, including smoking cessation and increasing referrals to QUIT helpline, educating women to sleep on their side from 28 weeks, management and detection of fetal growth restriction, managing and increasing awareness of decreased fetal movements and shared decision making around the timing of birth and induction of labour planning.

Jessica said it was important to reduce stillbirths because many pregnant women don’t know it could happen to them – and the effects are lifelong and devastating.

“As a clinician, I’ve seen the effect stillbirth has firsthand on women, and I’ve been with them when they’ve found out, and the effects on themselves and their family are just awful,” she said.

“That’s why we are trying to talk about it more and find risk factors about why it happens to educate women because it does affect them for the rest of their life.”

Mother Karolina Wodecka stands holding her newborn baby Jacob Wodeka, with her husband Slawek Pietrak standing behind her with his hand on her shoulder. Behind the family, Jessica Forrer and Sarah Burke stand.

The 30 per cent reduction means more babies like Jacob Wodeka can come into the world without a hitch.

Clinical midwife specialist Sarah Burke, who also helped to lead the study, said it was a real testament to the team’s hard work to achieve such a high reduction even with the challenges presented by COVID-19.

“Phase two started in the heart of COVID, so telehealth was introduced and we didn’t know if that would impact our service and if we’d be able to do it,” she said.

“We worked really hard to educate healthcare professionals and women to make sure we could still achieve it.”

Sarah said even though the study had ended, the team was still working on implementing measures to reduce stillbirth rates.

“We’re still continuing to work towards decision making around timing of birth and using a BRAIN acronym to help clinicians and women to make informed decisions around when their birth will be,” she said.

The BRAIN acronym helps patients and nurses make informed decisions by discussing the benefits and risks, considering alternative solutions, listening to your intuition and weighing up the consequences of doing nothing.