As the Magnolia State continues to lead the nation in stillbirth rates, the Mississippi State Department of Health is aiming to save 124 babies’ lives yearly through a partnership with a nonprofit program and its Count The Kicks app.
Stillbirths are also called fetal deaths, meaning the death of a fetus between 20 weeks of pregnancy and birth. Mississippi had 355 stillbirths in 2021 at a rate of 10 per 1,000 births, while the national rate is 5.76, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s July 26, 2023, report shows.
Count the Kicks is an stillbirth prevention app that helps expecting parents track their babies’ movements during the third trimester of pregnancy by timing how long it takes the baby to make 10 movements. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says parents should start at 26 weeks for high-risk pregnancies or at 28 weeks for typical pregnancies.
“The first sign that something is changing in that pregnancy is when a baby’s movements change,” Emily Price, CEO of Count the Kicks, told the Mississippi Free Press on Sept. 5.
If a baby starts moving irregularly, the pregnant person should visit their OB-GYN immediately to ensure their baby is still healthy, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney said.
“(The) majority of the time, if you don’t feel the baby kicking, that doesn’t mean you’ve lost the baby. But you should go get checked,” he told the Mississippi Free Press on Sept. 6.
Along with the app, Count the Kicks also designs physical and online educational materials.
Price said the nonprofit tracks how many health-care providers are ordering educational materials and engaging with the program and notes how many people visit its website and download the app. Count the Kicks then shares the data with MSDH.
“We can see the proof that Count the Kicks is working in Mississippi,” Price said.
MSDH will reevaluate the program’s partnership yearly, but Price said she hopes it lasts indefinitely.
‘Left Out of the Conversation’
Five grieving women who experienced stillbirth or infant death in the early 2000s banded together to help prevent stillbirths for other parents by founding Count the Kicks, Price said. The women found inspiration from a 2009 Norway study that claimed a 30% reduction in the country’s stillbirth numbers after teaching pregnant people to monitor their baby’s movements.
Count the Kicks first started in Iowa, which has seen a 32% decrease in all stillbirths since 2009, Price said. Nationally, the stillbirth rate fell by about 16% between 2009 and 2020. “We’ve helped reduce Iowa’s stillbirth rate by 39% among Black women in the first five years,” Price said.
Samantha Banerjee, executive director of PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy, said Black women and people with low incomes who lack access to health care tend to have higher rates of stillbirths, but anyone could have a child born still regardless of race or class.
“That’s actually only a very small fraction of stillbirths,” she told the Mississippi Free Press. “Eighty percent of stillbirths are taking place in otherwise healthy, low-risk pregnancies where the mom has no known maternal risk factors.”
Despite having a “textbook” healthy pregnancy, Banerjee’s first daughter, Alana, was stillborn two days before her October 2013 due date in Katonah, N.Y.
The mother said she went to every prenatal appointment, had “excellent access to health care and insurance,” ate healthily and exercised throughout pregnancy. She had never heard the term “stillbirth” until after she left the hospital and started to research her daughter’s cause of death, intrauterine fetal demise.
“The problem is just that stillbirth is always left out of the conversation, even though it’s claiming over 20,000 lives every year,” Banerjee said.
Stillbirth Data ‘Limited And Not of Great Quality’
At the federal level, the SHINE for Autumn Act and the Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act “would be excellent first steps” to help improve education and prevent stillbirths, Banerjee said.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced the SHINE for Autumn Act in March 2022; it would help state health departments with stillbirth data collection and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would create educational materials about stillbirths to dispense to the public. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, introduced the Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act the same month with the goal of improving research to prevent stillbirths. Senate leadership did not advance either bill to a vote.
“The data that we have to work with in this country is really limited and not of great quality,” Banerjee said. “And so the SHINE for Autumn Act, another aspect of it is that it would create a fellowship for perinatal pathologists to make sure that we even have the expertise to evaluate stillbirths, to understand why they’re happening.”
Through Count the Kicks’ partnership with MSDH, Emily Price said she hopes to get “live-saving information” out to the public.
“We invite everybody to be a part of it because we know we’re saving lives,” she said.