Socioeconomic gap in stillbirth numbers

empty cot

Women from lower socio-economic families face twice the risk of delivering a stillborn baby of their wealthier counterparts, an international study led by a Mater Research Institute-University of Queensland researcher has found.

The international study of stillbirth rates in high-income countries, led by MRI-UQ’s Associate Professor Vicki Flenady, found that the equity gap between rich and poor is contributing to thousands of preventable deaths. The findings are published in The Lancet.

A/Prof Flenady says many stillbirths in disadvantaged families could be prevented.

“We know that disadvantaged women are less likely to receive adequate antenatal care, yet this is vital to allow the early identification of factors which might contribute to a baby being stillborn,” she says.

“Improved education, alleviation of poverty, and improved access to health care that is timely and culturally appropriate are critical for preventing stillbirth deaths in disadvantaged families.”

The study found that high-income countries could reduce the rate of stillbirths by introducing national audits for perinatal death and by funding more research to improve understanding of the causes of stillbirths.

“Stillbirth rate is a key indicator of women’s health and quality of care in pregnancy and childbirth,” A/Prof Flenady says.

“Our research showed that while stillbirth is more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, it is still a major health burden in high income countries across the world.”

Australia’s stillbirth rates are significantly higher than the best-performing developed countries, including the Netherlands, which has reduced its rates since 2000.

“Future research is needed to understand the causes of stillbirth, how to predict those at most risk, and to develop effective strategies to reduce obesity and smoking,” A/Prof Flenady says.

Associate Professor Fran Boyle from UQ’s School of Public Health says there us a need for improved support for families who had experienced stillbirth.

“Stillbirth is a traumatic event that can be made even more difficult for families due to stigma and inadequate bereavement care,” she says.

“Improved care after stillbirth is vital to reducing the many adverse psychological and social consequences of stillbirth.

“This should be provided by appropriately trained health care professionals with a sensitive and seamless transition to community support services in all settings.”


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