Information for parents, families, whānau and communities about deaths of babies and mothers in 2013

This summary is based on information in the Ninth Annual Report of the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC). The PMMRC is learning from the tragic deaths of mothers and babies to help save lives in the future.

‘He matenga ohorere, he wairua uiui, wairua mutunga-kore. 

The grief of a sudden, untimely death will never be forgotten.’

Deaths of babies

‘Perinatal related deaths’ are babies who died during pregnancy or birth, or from the time they were born until they were four weeks old. In 2013 there were 598 perinatal related deaths.

The ‘mortality rate’ is the number of babies who died compared with the number of babies born. In 2013 the mortality rate was 10 deaths per 1000 births, the lowest since 2007.


A ‘stillbirth’ is the death of a baby from 20 weeks of pregnancy and during birth. In 2013 307 babies were stillborn. This is the lowest rate since 2007.

The rate is lower because the number of babies dying from 37 weeks pregnancy and during birth has gone down since 2007. The number of babies dying due to lack of oxygen in labour has gone down by 80 percent.

The three most common causes of stillbirths in 2013 were:

  • vaginal bleeding in pregnancy (44 babies)
  • growth restriction (44 babies) which is when the baby does not grow well during pregnancy. Growth restriction is usually due to problems with the way the placenta (the ‘afterbirth’) works
  • perinatal conditions (39 babies) which are problems during the pregnancy. There are many causes of perinatal conditions.

In 2013 it was not possible to identify the cause for 91 babies dying before birth.

Neonatal deaths

A ‘neonatal death’ is the death of a baby during the first four weeks of life.

In 2013 there were 152 neonatal deaths. The neonatal death rate has not changed since 2007.

The three most common known causes related to the pregnancy for neonatal deaths in 2013 were:

  • premature birth (births that occur very early) (49 babies)
  • congenital abnormality (babies who are not formed normally) (29 babies)
  • vaginal bleeding in pregnancy (25 babies).

Panui pamphlet coverA post-mortem is a detailed medical investigation of the body after death. It is a very important way of learning about the cause of death, and may prevent future deaths.

Results from a post-mortem can help parents plan for future pregnancies.

The Health Quality & Safety Commission has a pamphlet to help people decide whether to agree to a post-mortem examination after their baby has died.

Deaths of mothers

In 2013 12 mothers died during pregnancy or in the first six weeks after giving birth (one mother for every 6000 babies born at 20 weeks or more).

Between 2006 and 2013, 89 mothers died during pregnancy or in the first six weeks after giving birth. The most frequent causes of these 89 deaths were:

  • suicide (21 women)
  • pre-existing medical disease (a condition the mother already had, such as heart disease) (21 women)
  • amniotic fluid embolism (12 women). This happens when some of the fluid around the baby gets into the mother’s bloodstream. The embolism causes some women to have a severe, allergic-type reaction.

This website has more information about the PMMRC, copies of its reports and pamphlets, and advice to keep mothers and babies safe during pregnancy. 

Advice to keep mothers and babies safe during pregnancy

  • Stop smoking and drinking alcohol.advice mums babies graphic
  • Take folate when trying to get pregnant and for the first three months of pregnancy.
  • Find a lead maternity carer (LMC), usually a midwife, to give you antenatal care early in pregnancy. Visit them regularly.
  • Eat healthily and watch your weight gain in pregnancy (women of normal weight should gain no more than 11kg during pregnancy; women who are overweight should gain no more than 5kg).
  • Get screened for diabetes.
  • Tell your LMC about any vaginal bleeding you have during pregnancy.
  • After 28 weeks of pregnancy, be aware of baby movements and contact your LMC if the movements reduce.
  • Talk to your LMC about family violence, and ask for help if you need it.
  • Talk to your GP or LMC if you are feeling sad or depressed.

Last updated 15/05/2017