Many stillborn births 'preventable': study

A working group is to investigate why so many babies are being stillborn in New Zealand, despite most of them being full-term, full size babies, "and therefore may have been preventable deaths".

A new report into perinatal and maternal mortality has found 488 babies, or one in 100, died during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth in New Zealand during 2008 -- similar rates to the previous year.

The report terms babies as those still in the womb from 20 weeks up to one week old and excludes abortions.

Of those, 379 were stillborn, including 75 who died during labour - deaths which may have been preventable, head of the review committee, Obstetrics Professor Cindy Farquhar, said in the report.

"The intrapartum (during labour) stillbirth rate continues to be of concern as the majority of these babies are full term and not small for gestational age and therefore may have been preventable deaths."

She said a new working group on neonatal deaths would be reviewing the deaths and hoped to provide some answers from 2009 data.

But the committee called for more data on why 488 babies died, urging the Government to investigate the link with obesity and smoking and avoid "possibly preventable" deaths.

Almost half - 49 percent - of women who had stillbirths were overweight, as were 45 percent of mothers of newborns who died.

There were 10 sudden unexpected infant deaths - cot death - in 2008, the same as in 2007, nine of which had mothers who smoked and eight of which shared a bed with an adult.

In its recommendations to the Health Ministry and District Health Boards, the committee also called for more research into why babies of Pacific Island, Maori, teenaged and over-40 mothers died, as well as those who live in low socio-economic areas, to avoid "possibly preventable" deaths.

A lack of national data on all mothers made it difficult to confirm suspected risk factors like obesity, and more detailed information was needed.

For mothers, nine died from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes during 2008, down from 11 in 2007 and 15 in 2006, but it was not long enough to comment on trends, it said.

It also recommended:

* Mental health services become part of maternity services, and a mother and baby unit incorporating this needs to be set up in the North Island.

* Finding out why only half of families allow post-mortems on their dead infants

* National guidelines on post-birth haemorrhage be developed

It also urges doctors and midwives to be aware of the higher risk groups, collect ethnicity data and identify mental health issues.

The committee's report has been given to the Minister of Health.




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