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Number of stillbirths not reducing

25th April 2007

Research has shown that over one in 200 pregnancies ends in a stillbirth, a figure which has not decreased since the early 1990s.

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A stillbirth is defined as the death of an unborn baby occurring after the 24th week of pregnancy. Studies have shown stillbirth occurs most frequently for women under the age of 20, over 40 or from an ethnic minority.

The figures were compiled by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH). The group studied pregnancies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2005. They found there were 668,681 live births and 3,600 stillbirths during the course of the year, with a rate of 5.5 stillbirths per 1,000 births.

Stillbirths fell steadily from the 1950s to the 1990s. The number of stillbirths occurring in multiple pregnancies and for premature babies has been reduced, but in single pregnancies the figure has remained steady. In over half of cases, doctors cannot identify the reason for a stillbirth.

Richard Congdon, chief executive of CEMACH, said: "The rapid improvement in recent years in the survival prospects of babies who have been born very prematurely is highly welcome. But unfortunately there seem to be deep-seated reasons why we are not seeing the same improvement in the number of stillbirths. We believe this needs attention."

A Department of Health spokesman said that research had not yet identified the cause of stillbirths and emphasised that the "vital work into this area" should continue.


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