Maternity Services and Stillbirth Prevention

This webpage provides information on the Australian Government initiatives that support Australia’s maternity services. This includes the National Strategic Approach to Maternity Services, the Pregnancy Care Guidelines, national maternal and perinatal data and the Pregnancy Birth and Baby service. Information about the Government’s stillbirth prevention and support initiatives are also included on this page.

Page last updated: 11 December 2020

In Australian, the planning and delivery of maternity services is predominately undertaken by states and territories with the Australian Government playing a role in providing national direction and supporting efforts to improve care and outcomes. Maternity services are delivered through a mix of public and private services with planning and delivery predominantly undertaken by the states and territories through publicly funded programs.

For information on maternity services within your state or territory please refer to your state or territory health service.

Related maternity services and stillbirth prevention publications can be found on the publication page.

Woman-centred care: Strategic directions for Australian maternity services

The Woman-centred care: Strategic directions for Australian maternity services (Woman-centred care) document was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in November 2019.

The document provides overarching national strategic directions to support Australia’s high-quality maternity care system and enable improvements in line with contemporary practice, evidence and international developments.

Woman-centred care: Strategic directions for Australian maternity services

Pregnancy Care Guidelines

The Australian Government has developed the Clinical Practice Guidelines - Pregnancy Care (the Guidelines), formerly known as the Clinical Practice Guidelines – Antenatal Care (Antenatal Care Guidelines) to support health care professionals to provide high quality, evidence-based care to pregnant women.

The Guidelines cover a wide range of topics including routine physical examinations, screening tests and social and lifestyle advice for pregnant women without complications.

A series of health promotion summary sheets has also been developed to support the Guidelines. These are based on the content of the Pregnancy Care Guidelines.

The Guidelines and the health professional summary sheets can be accessed here.

National Maternal and Perinatal Data

Since 2011, the Australian Government has funded the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) to develop a nationally consistent and comprehensive maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity data collection in Australia. An overview of Australian national and jurisdictional data collections relevant to maternal and perinatal health can be found at the Maternity Information Matrix.

The AIHW reports key statistics and trends on pregnancy and childbirth related to mothers, and the characteristics and outcomes of their babies. The AIHW is also responsible for the national reporting of maternal and perinatal mortality, and it is the designated Australian WHO focal point for maternal mortality. Maternal and perinatal data publications can be accessed from the AIHW website.

Pregnancy, Birth and Baby

The Australian Government funds Pregnancy, Birth and Baby, a free 7 days a week (7am to 12pm midnight AET) national helpline, video and website service providing access to information, guidance and support for women, partners and their families in relation to pregnancy, birth and the first 5 years of a baby’s life. Call 1800 882 436 or visit their website.

When you phone or use the video call you will speak to a maternal child health nurse. The maternal child health nurses work with parents to ensure the health and wellbeing of their children and family, providing guidance on children’s growth, behaviour and development and refer parents to local services.

The Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline is available to all Australians, including people living in rural and remote areas. People with a disability and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can access the helpline through the National Relay Service and the Translating and Interpreting Service.

Callers experiencing perinatal depression or grief following miscarriage, stillbirth or the loss of a baby may be referred to targeted telephone-based peer support services, including SIDS and Kids, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Association (PANDA) and Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support (SANDS) Australia.

Stillbirth Prevention

Stillbirth1 is one of the most devastating and profound events that any family is likely to experience. It is often a hidden tragedy that causes significant personal, social and financial consequences for parents and families. In Australia, there are six stillbirths each day, affecting over 2,000 Australian families each year. In over 30 per cent of stillbirth cases, the cause is unknown. There is increasing evidence that stillbirths are preventable and countries around the world including the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and New Zealand have had success in reducing stillbirth rates. The Australian Government is implementing a range of measures to reduce stillbirth and is aiming to achieve similar reductions.

Senate Inquiry into Stillbirth

On 27 March 2018, the Senate established the Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education to inquire into and report on the future of stillbirth research and education in Australia. On 4 December 2018, the Committee tabled its Report which includes 16 recommendations. On 4 July 2019, the Australian Government tabled its response to the Report, agreeing or agreeing in principle to all recommendations. The Report and the Government’s response are available on the Parliament of Australia website.

National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan

On 10 December 2020, the Australian Government released the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan . The Plan is the first national plan to strategically address the issue of stillbirth in Australia. The primary goal of the Plan is to reduce stillbirth rates in Australia by 20 per cent or more within the next five years.

National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan (PDF 1231 KB)
National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan (Word 969 KB)

The Plan includes short, medium and long terms actions that aim to reduce stillbirth and ensure families affected by stillbirth receive respectful and supportive care. It recognises that some groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, some culturally and linguistically diverse groups, and women living in rural and remote areas, have higher rates of stillbirth. The Plan includes actions to address these equity gaps.

The Plan recognises stillbirth as a public health issue and has been developed in response to the Senate Select Committee on Stillbirth Research and Education Report (Senate Report). Recommendation 15 of the Senate Report recommended that the Government lead a process to develop and implement a national stillbirth plan aimed at reducing the rate of stillbirth in Australia by 20 per cent.

The Plan has been developed in close consultation with state and territory governments, researchers, clinical experts, non-government organisations, and bereaved parents. It has been informed by extensive consultation, including the outcomes of two national Stillbirth Roundtables held in February 2019 and December 2019. Further information on the Stillbirth Roundtables, including a list of participants can be accessed in the Stillbirth Roundtable Summary Sheets.

Summary sheet – Roundtable 1 (PDF 595 KB)
Summary sheet – Roundtable 1 (Word 24 KB)

Summary sheet – Roundtable 2 (PDF 798 KB)
Summary sheet – Roundtable 2 (Word 29 KB)

Funding for Stillbirth

On 10 December 2020, the Australian Government also announced a further $11 million to support implementation of the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan. This includes:

  • $4 million to support stillbirth education and awareness initiatives that focus on higher risk groups and promotion of the Safer Baby Bundle;
  • $2.1 million to adapt the Safer Baby Bundle for priority populations including  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds;
  • $0.5 million to develop new Clinical Care Standards and update existing clinical care guidelines relating to stillbirth;
  • $0.5 million for data improvement and activities to enable long-term research on stillbirth;
  • $1.7 million to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework for the Plan;
  • $1 million for state and territory government to take immediate action to develop programs, including pilots, to increase the uptake of stillbirth autopsies and investigations; and
  • 1 million through a National Health and Medical Research Council grant to Monash University to conduct a trial of a wearable, low-cost device to monitor fetal movements to prevent stillbirth.

This funding complements the Australian Government’s existing investment of $88.4 million in perinatal services and support, which is comprised of:

  • $43.9 million over seven years from 2018-19 for the Perinatal Mental Health and Wellbeing Program;
  • $36.0 million over three years from 2020-21 for a National Perinatal Mental Health Check; and
  • $7.2 million over four years from 2018-19 for stillbirth measures as announced on
    5 December 2018 which includes:
    • $3.0 million funding for stillbirth education and awareness programs,
    • $1.2 million research project to minimise preventable stillbirth through the use of biomarkers and ultrasound in late pregnancy; and
    • $3.0 million in research funding to expand the Safer Baby Bundle project to provide national coverage.
  • $1.3 million over two years from 2019-20 for Red Nose (formerly Sands Australia) to deliver an intensive support service for families following stillbirth (announced at the launch of the Women’s Health Strategy).

Safer Baby Bundle

A major Australian Government-funded initiative that is currently under way involves the national rollout of the Safer Baby Bundle. This evidence based package aims to reduce risk factors for stillbirth and improve clinical management of pregnant women who may be at increased risk of stillbirth. The Safer Baby Bundle is currently being implemented in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria and will be extended to all states and territories. It is jointly funded through a National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) Partnership project and the Medical Research Future Fund.

The evidence-based components of the Safer Baby Bundle are:
  • smoking cessation support;
  • improving awareness and management of women with decreased fetal movements;
  • improving detection and management of impaired fetal growth;
  • provision of maternal safe sleeping advice; and
  • improving decision-making around timing of birth for women with risk factors.

Stillbirth Education and Awareness Programs

The $3 million announced for stillbirth education and awareness programs on 5 December 2018 was allocated through a competitive targeted grants opportunity. On 2 December 2019, Minister Hunt announced that Red Nose Limited and the University of Queensland, Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence (Stillbirth CRE) have each been awarded $1.5 million to implement an awareness campaign to demystify stillbirth, educate pregnant women and improve national awareness of stillbirth.

Red Nose Limited’s campaign will focus on three key risk factors for stillbirth:
  • reducing smoking in pregnancy;
  • sleeping on your side during pregnancy; and
  • fetal movements.
Stillbirth CRE will deliver a range of education and awareness activities as well as strategies to target women who are at increased risk of stillbirth in Australia. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, some migrant and refugee women, and women from rural and remote communities.

Red Nose Limited and Stillbirth CRE will work in partnership with several other organisations including SANDS Australia, the Stillbirth Foundation, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Supporting Parents and Families after Stillbirth

Supporting bereaved parents is a key component of the Australian Government’s approach to stillbirth. The Australian Government is providing $43.9 million from the 2019-20 Budget to support perinatal mental health. This includes support for families experiencing grief following the death of a child. In addition to this, Sands Australia is receiving funding of $1.3 million to deliver an intensive support service to families affected by stillbirth. This will provide support in hospital that will continue when the family returns home.

Other useful links

Medicare information page for midwives and nurse practitioners
Smoking and tobacco and pregnancy
Bladder bowel control problems related to pregnancy and birth

1 A stillbirth is defined as the birth of a baby who has died any time from 20 weeks into the pregnancy through to the due date of birth. When the length of gestation (pregnancy) is not known, the birth will be considered a stillbirth if the baby weighs 400 grams or more.

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