If you teach enough childbirth classes or have enough clients or patients, eventually a family you have worked with will experience the tragic situation of a stillbirth for their full term child. This situation may arise after working with many families, or it may present itself in your first days and weeks of being a birth professional. It is my wish that no one would have to feel the pain and heartbreak of such a loss. As a childbirth educator and a doula for over 14 years, I must include myself in having both clients and students who have lost a full term baby in utero.
In 2016, Science & Sensibility contributor Mindy Cockeram, LCCE, wrote about this topic and took a look some of the current research on kick counts in her post "Fetal Surveillance – Alive and Kicking". Midwives and doctors are instructing expectant parents to monitor their babies' activities and childbirth educators and other birth professionals can share this handy resource to make it easier for parents to track their baby's movements.
Count the Kicks is an easy to use app that parents can download onto their smartphones to help them to "count the kicks." This app is available for both Apple and Google phones. The public awareness campaign and organization were established by five Iowan mothers who all lost their daughters to stillbirth. Their mission is to prevent stillbirths and improve birth outcomes. They offer consumer materials in both Spanish and English that can be ordered at very low cost to give out to parents. In the states of Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois, the material is free as a result of generous funders from the Telligen Community Initiative and Nebraska Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative (NPQIC).
The app (available in English and Spanish as well) makes it simple and easy to monitor baby movement during the third trimester. There is a daily text feature that can alert parents at the same time every day with a reminder that it is time to check in with the baby. A pregnant person can also use the app to monitor kick counts for twins. When parents notice that the baby's movement pattern is different from what is typical, they are encouraged to check in with a health care provider.
I share the suggestion on kick counts, this app and the importance of connecting with a health care provider whenever they suspect something is "off" during the first class when we are talking about warning signs and discomforts of late pregnancy. I encourage families to trust their instincts and never hesitate to reach out to their midwife or doctor. This type of unplanned contact is expected as part of the job description for anyone who works in maternity care. They will not be laughed at or looked down upon for reaching out.
I also address the fact that many people will tell them that babies normally slow down their movements as they run out of room and get ready for birth. This is simply not true and I encourage them to trust their instincts and continue to do the kick counts as usual.
As a childbirth educator or birth professional, you have an opportunity to normalize the fetus' behavior in the last weeks of pregnancy and encourage families to be diligent with checking in with their baby as they wait for labor to start. Sharing the app and information about kick counts can help people to reach out for help from their provider if something seems different. With this knowledge, there is the potential to help families to identify a problem before it becomes too serious. Do you already share about doing kick counts with your classes? How has this information been received? Please let us know in the comments below.