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: 15 October 2019

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.

National Strategic Approach to Maternity Services

At the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC) meeting on 22 September 2017 it was agreed to start a new process to develop a National Strategic Approach to Maternity Services (NSAMS). Members agreed that the work would be led by the Commonwealth and include all jurisdictions in a time limited Project Reference Group (PRG). An Advisory Group (AG) was also established to provide advice to the PRG.

In developing the Strategy, two rounds of public consultation were held. These included the opportunity for online submissions, attendance at workshops, focus groups and webinars. Across the two rounds of consultation over 600 health professionals, service providers and consumers attended the workshops, focus groups and webinars. Over 900 organisations and individuals made submissions. The contribution of so many to the development of the Strategy is acknowledged with appreciation. A shared commitment to safe and high-quality care was always evident in the feedback.

The final strategy document Woman-centred care: Strategic directions for Australian maternity services 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 is currently progressing through AHMAC approval processes.

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.

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

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.

On 5 December 2018, the Australian Government announced $7.2 million as an initial response to the Senate Select Committee Report on Stillbirth Research and Education to reduce stillbirths: $3 million for stillbirth education and awareness programs, $3 million for stillbirth research through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and $1.2 million for research at the University of Melbourne to minimise preventable stillbirth through the use of biomarkers and ultrasound in late pregnancy. The Australian Government also announced that a National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan will be developed. Work on this plan is currently under way and will involve consultations with stakeholders.

Stillbirth Roundtable

On 12 February 2019, the Australian Government convened a national roundtable with stakeholders to identify national priorities and strategies for reducing stillbirth. A range of individuals and organisations with expertise in stillbirth attended the Roundtable, including health professionals, researchers, representatives from non-government organisations and organisations representing bereaved parents. Further information on the Stillbirth Roundtable, including a list of participants can be accessed in the summary sheet.
Summary sheet (PDF 225 KB)
Summary sheet (Word 25 KB)

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

On 2 September 2019, the Department of Health released a targeted competitive grant opportunity for $3 million in funds to assist the Australian Government develop stillbirth education and awareness programs. At the Stillbirth Roundtable, reducing smoking in pregnancy, awareness of fetal movements and side sleeping in pregnancy were identified as important evidence based messages to be included in public awareness campaigns. These messages will be key components of education and awareness programs. The outcomes of the targeted competitive grant opportunity are expected to be released early in December 2019.

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.

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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