Women and Babies Research

Women and Babies Research aims to inform, evaluate and improve health policy and service delivery for mothers and babies. Our overall goal is to ensure a healthy start to life.

Whilst every expectant parent looks forward to celebrating the birth of a healthy baby, some families are faced with pregnancy or newborn complications. We investigate factors linked to pregnancy problems such as preterm birth, stillbirth, fetal growth restriction, hypertension and diabetes in pregnancy.

We assess clinical interventions and models of care to determine the best course of action for those who experience difficulties during pregnancy or during the birthing process. This research is vital in understanding how pregnancy complications are best prevented and managed.

We also know that what happens before and during pregnancy and birth can influence the course of a newborn’s life and increase their risk of obesity, chronic disease and other long-term adverse outcomes. Research has shown that events in pregnancy and birth can also impact the longer-term outcomes of children, including their behaviour, academic performance and physical health. The goal of all our work is to ensure optimal health for mothers and their babies.

Women and Babies Research is a partnership between the University of Sydney and the Northern Sydney Local Health District based at Royal North Shore Hospital.


Lead

Perfessor Jonathan Morris Professor Jonathan Morris, AM

Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Director of Women and Babies Research, Kolling Institute of Medical Research, Northern Clinical School
Member of Sydney Southeast Asia Centre
Member of the Charles Perkins Centre

Our team involves around 20 researchers, clinicians and students, including obstetricians, midwives, nurses, epidemiologists, data analysts, marketeers and social scientists.

We conduct quantitative and qualitative research, and have developed unique expertise examining large population health data to address key issues affecting the health of mothers and their babies.

Our experienced clinical researchers conduct local and multi-centred national and international clinical studies that align with health priorities. We have a strong commitment to building capacity in clinical and population health research and our senior researchers regularly supervise PhD and research Masters students and NSW Health biostatistics trainees.

Committees play a key role in supporting the general management of our research. TheManagement Committee ensures efficient and effective operational management of the team. The Research Advisory Committee provides strategic advice and oversight on research priorities, academic performance and research translation to policy and healthcare delivery.

Major collaborations:

  • Northern Sydney Local Health District
  • NSW Ministry of Health
  • NSW Centre for Health Record Linkage
  • Australian Red Cross Blood Service
  • NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, University of Sydney
  • NSW Clinical Excellence Commission
  • NSW Bureau of Health Information
  • NSW Centre for Big Data Research in Health
  • Perinatal Society of Australia and New
  • Zealand (PSANZ)
  • Pregnancy and Newborn Services Network
  • Sydney Children’s Hospital Network
  • Stillbirth CRE
  • Women and Infants Research Foundation (WIRF)

Major funding:

  • Australian Research Council
  • MRFF Rapid Applied Research Translation grant / Sydney Health Partners
  • National Health and Medical Research Council
  • NSW Health (Prevention Research Support Program, Translational Research Grants Scheme)

Our research activities focus on:

Improving the quality and safety of healthcare for women and children

We undertake research to inform and evaluate compliance with health policies relevant to maternal and child health, as well as research about specific aspects of care that carry high risk and/or high cost. This includes patient transfers, obstetric interventions and the use of blood products. We explore pregnancy outcomes as a result of gynaecological conditions, surgery or other complications. We also aim to understand what matters most to women about their care, and how health services can better support them.

Understanding changing trends in gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes mellitus is defined as glucose intolerance that is diagnosed in pregnancy. It occurs in approximately 1 in 10 pregnancies and the incidence appears to be rising. Our research aims to better understand the influence of changed diagnostic criteria and increasing risk factors on these trends, and whether changes in diagnosis and management are resulting in improved maternal and neonatal outcomes.

Reducing stillbirths

The birth of a baby after 20 weeks’ gestation without signs of life, is a tragedy for parents and families. The rate of stillbirth in Australia is 7.4 per 1000 births, affecting approximately 2,200 women and families each year. We undertake research to analyse trends in stillbirth and identify potentially preventable factors to help reduce the incidence of stillbirths.

Reducing preterm births

Preterm birth is a birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. In Australia, approximately 8-9% of births are preterm, although the rate is much higher among Aboriginal women (14%). We undertake research to identify socio-demographic, pregnancy-related, and other clinical factors that might identify those women and babies at increased risk for preterm birth. There is a particular focus on factors that are preventable, such as smoking in pregnancy.

Evaluating infant and maternal vaccination programs

Immunisation is one of the most important public health measures and has been credited with closing the gap in mortality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Despite these gains, outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases continue to occur, with infants suffering the highest burden of severe disease. We undertake research using health and immunisation data to determine who is most at risk of severe disease or not getting their recommended vaccines on time.

Unlocking the potential of electronic health data to improve the outcomes of pregnant women and their babies

A wealth of electronic health data exists that can increase our understanding of health trends and outcomes for women and their babies. We are using data to provide insights into where and how resources can be best utilised to target those in greatest need.

The security and privacy of these health data are paramount, and we have been at the centre of developing an agreement for the sharing of health data across Sydney Health Partners, a collaboration between the University of Sydney and four major health services serving approximately 50% of NSW’s population. We are also working on the development of a state-wide maternity and newborn data analytics platform that would provide rapid analysis and feedback of pregnancy outcomes to the state, the local health districts and to individual hospitals.

Translating our research to health policy and practice

Fundamental to our work is a commitment to sharing research findings in ways that might influence broader health policy, planning and care delivery. We have partnerships with NSW Ministry of Health and Northern Sydney Local Health District, as well as strong links with state and nationally-appointed clinicians and policy makers who facilitate research translation.

Raising public awareness

We aim to educate, raise awareness and develop resources for health professionals and pregnant women targeting health behaviours that can optimise pregnancy outcomes. Research by our team and others has shown a downward shift in gestational age at birth, particularly among planned births. We have also shown the increased risks for adverse outcomes at birth and in later childhood with every week that a baby is born before 39 weeks. Our team is leading a campaign titled Every Week Counts (www.everyweekcounts.com.au) which aims to raise awareness amongst healthcare providers and expectant women about the benefits of birthing as close to 40 weeks gestation as possible, provided there is no clinical need for earlier delivery.

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