6 Australian Babies Die Everyday: Stillbirth Rates Remain High After 20 Years

February 2, 2021 Updated: February 2, 2021

A consortium specialising in infant mortality has said an average of six babies die every day in Australia with stillbirth rates remaining high for 20 years.

Red Nose Australia, Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence (Stillbirth CRE), Stillbirth Foundation of Australia, and Sands Australia have joined together to launch a joint campaign, entitled Still Six Lives, to reduce the number of stillbirths suffered by expectant Aussie parents annually.

“Stillbirth is the biggest cause of perinatal mortality in Australia,” Stillbirth Foundation Australia CEO Leigh Brezler told The Epoch Times. “Nearly 2,200 babies are stillborn each year, which is almost twice Australia’s national road toll.”

In Australia, a stillbirth is defined when a baby is born without signs of life after 20 weeks’ gestation, or with a 400g birthweight.

Current data from Stillbirth CRE places the stillbirth rate (20 weeks/400g) in Australia at 6.8 per 1,000 births. However, the risk is higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, South Asian women, and African women.

In particular pregnancies between 20 to 28 weeks have significantly higher rates of mortality in Australia.

“While we’ve seen the rate of stillbirth after 28 weeks decline from 3.5 per 1,000 to 2.2 per 1,000 since 1999, the rate of early stillbirth and neonatal death has remained stubbornly high,” Brezler said.

According to Stillbirth CRE, the major causes of fetal deaths in babies who are less than 28 weeks’ gestation are related to congenital abnormality (31.3 percent), maternal conditions (18.2 percent), and spontaneous preterm birth (16.1percent). A further 11 percent of the deaths remain unexplained.

The most common causes of deaths in babies who are older than 28 weeks’ gestation are fetal growth restriction (11.7 percent), antepartum haemorrhage (9.5 percent), and congenital abnormality (9 percent). At the same time, a further 39.9 percent of stillbirths that occur after 28 weeks’ gestation in Australia are unexplained.

Epoch Times Photo
A two-week-old baby’s feet taken on March 20, 2007. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Stillbirth CRE said these rates have not changed much for over thirty years, although survival rates for babies who have passed 28 weeks’ gestation have improved.

According to the United Nations Inter-Agency 2020 report on global estimates for stillbirth rates (pdf), Australia saw a 31 percent decline in stillbirths after 28 weeks’ gestation from 2000 to 2019.

But Stillbirth CRE noted that these improvements had not kept pace with other developed nations like Japan, who reduced their stillbirth rate by over 40 percent.

Denmark and Sweden have also recorded better mortality rates for pregnancies, reducing their rates by almost 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

Brezler has called for Australia to start having a conversation about the topic, because she believes expectant parents can mitigate the risk if they are educated.

“When it comes to stillbirth, we know there are things that can reduce the risk, and these should be communicated to parents and acted upon by medical professionals,” Brezler said.

According to the Still Six Lives campaign, pregnant women are advised to do three things to help reduce the risk of stillbirth.

  • Sleep on your side after 28 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Be aware of your baby’s movements, and contact your maternity care professional immediately if movements change.
  • Quit smoking.

Brezler also said there is an increasing need for research into the causes of stillbirths.

“There are factors we don’t know, and these should be researched. We need to be able to measure them and understand them so we can fix them,” she said.