While Australia remains one the safest places in the world to have a baby, an “unacceptable” number of families are facing the devastating reality of stillbirth.
Almost one in 100 pregnancies at or beyond 20 weeks gestation ends with the death of the baby, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute ofHealth and Welfare (AIHW) and the University of New South Wales’ National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit.
The majority of these deaths are stillbirths.
The Perinatal Deaths in Australia 1993-2012 report shows the overall rate of perinatal deaths – stillbirths or neonatal deaths, that is death within the first four weeks of life – remained fairly stable over this 20-year period.
While neonatal deaths declined by 18%, the stillbirth rate increased by 13%.
In 2011 and 2012 there were nearly 4,500 stillbirths, representing about three-quarters of all perinatal deaths during this period.
AIHW spokeswomen, associate professor Georgina Chambers, said the increase in the stillbirth rate does not indicate a trend because it essentially reflects a period of time in the 1990s and early 2000s when many terminations after 20 weeks gestation were reported as stillbirths because of increased protection of perinatal abnormalities detected via screening.
Victoria Bowring, general manager at the Stillbirth Foundation, said this report was another shocking reminder that rate of stillbirth remains unacceptably high.
“According to these figures one child dies from stillbirth every four hours in Australia and government is doing next to nothing to fund research into why it happens and promote education about how to prevent it,” Bowring said.
On a more positive note, the report shows the gap between the rate of stillbirths to Indigenous mothers and non-Indigenous mothers has narrowed.
The rate of stillbirths among Indigenous mothers dropped 16%.
Despite this positive drop, Indigenous mothers are still 1.8 times more likely to lose a baby to stillbirth, according to the report.
That’s approximately 17.1 deaths per 1,000 Indigenous women compared with 9.6 deaths per 1,000 non-Indigenous women.
Several factors are associated with perinatal deaths, including the age of the mother.
The data shows the rate of stillbirths among teenage mothers or those older than 45 years more than doubled.
Chambers said it was hoped this comprehensive analysis would help experts better understand the causes of perinatal deaths so they could improve stillbirth prevention.