Rate of babies dying shortly before or after birth lowest reported

13 Jun 2017 | Perinatal & Maternal Mortality Review Committee

The rate of babies dying shortly before or after birth (perinatal mortality) is now the lowest since reporting began in New Zealand.

The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee’s (PMMRC’s) Eleventh Annual Report shows one stillbirth for every 196 births in 2015, which is a small but significant improvement from when reporting first began in 2007, when there was one stillbirth for every 178 births.

The PMMRC is an independent committee that reviews the deaths of babies and mothers in New Zealand and advises the Health Quality & Safety Commission on how to reduce these deaths.

PMMRC Chair Dr Sue Belgrave says a number of initiatives to improve pregnancy care likely contributed to the reductions in deaths shortly before or after birth.

‘These include reduced rates of smoking among pregnant women, better and earlier access to antenatal care so that risk factors such as small babies and maternal diabetes can be detected and managed, and there was a decrease in births among teenage women suggesting improved access to contraception.

‘Each death is a tragedy for the family and whānau involved, and it is very important to reduce these deaths and enhance maternity care in New Zealand.’

There has also been a reduction in stillbirths , from 369 in 2007 to 305 in 2015.

Dr Belgrave says it is important women are well supported throughout and after their pregnancy.

‘This includes registering with a lead maternity carer within the first three months of your pregnancy, and if you are a smoker, receiving help and support to quit. If you are feeling depressed or stressed, tell your doctor or midwife – they can help.’

Other report findings include:

  • The neonatal mortality rate has not changed from 2007 to 2015
  • There has been a statistically significant reduction in fetal deaths (stillbirths and late terminations of pregnancy combined) from 2007 and 2015
  • There were an unusually high number of deaths of babies at 41 weeks’ gestation in 2015
  • There were 11 maternal deaths in 2015
  • The maternal death rate for Māori mothers is almost double that of New Zealand European mothers
  • Suicide of mothers accounted for 26 percent of maternal deaths from 2006 to 2015, and Māori women were over-represented in deaths from suicide.

In its previous report, the PMMRC included a special chapter on maternal suicide, which emphasised the importance of all clinicians involved in a woman’s care having knowledge of her mental health history, so they are able to provide the best care. The PMMRC also recommended a perinatal and infant mental health network be established to provide a forum to discuss perinatal mental health issues.

Dr Belgrave says there has been good progress in this area, with work underway with the Ministry of Health to develop the national network and identify a work plan.

View frequently asked questions for the PMMRC Eleventh report.

Last updated 13/06/2017