Number of stillbirths in the UK falls to record low

Figures released today by the Office of National Statistics show the lowest stillbirth rate since records began.

A chalk drawing of a graph showing a decline in numbers

Tommy's news, 19/07//2018

Figures released today by the Office of National Statistics show the number of stillbirths in England and Wales has fallen to a record low.

In 2017, there were 2,873 babies stillborn, compared with 3,112 in 2016, a decrease of 7.7 per cent, which is the lowest number since records began in 1927. 

This is a stillbirth rate decrease of 4.2 per 1,000 total births in 2017, the lowest rate on record. It is also important to note that in the last decade, the stillbirth rate has decreased by 19.2%.

Clinical Director of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research CentreProfessor Alex Heazell notes:

'This is really exciting. The interesting thing is that in the analysis of early adopter sites the Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle the stillbirth rate fell by 20%. In 2017 there were far more maternity units implementing the Care Bundle. 

'I think that this strengthens the observations that the work we've done on detecting placental dysfunction by identifying small babies and those with reduced fetal movements has resulted in fewer stillbirths. 

'This reduction is essential to meet the goal set by the Secretary of State to reduce stillbirths by 50% by 2025. The reduction in stillbirths has come about by increased understanding about why babies die and in developing effective interventions which have their origin in research. The research Tommy's has funded since 2010 is paying off!' 

A representative for the ONS commented:

The stillbirth rate has dropped to a record low, declining each year since 2011. It is a step towards achieving a government ambition to reduce the rate of stillbirths by introducing new maternity strategies while ensuring the best and safest care.

It is heartening to see these statistics, but here at Tommy's, we believe there is still more work to be done. 

In the UK, around 1 in 225 pregnancies end in stillbirth. This is equivalent to over 3,430 babies dying every year. We are aiming to change this, with our research focusing on three main areas:

  1. Understanding the causes
  2. Treatment and prevention
  3. Improving care for women at risk of, and following, a stillbirth

We are already making strides towards our goals.

Tommy's researchers recently found that inflammation can change the structure of the placenta, and affect the way it works during pregnancy and if this is linked to stillbirth. 

Another project we are working on focuses on understanding the best way to care for women with early onset fetal growth restriction, or eFGR, as we know that babies whose growth slows or stops early on in pregnancy are at a much higher risk of stillbirth.

At the moment, there is almost no research on how to help women who have eFGR babies. Tommy’s want to change this. This research will help us to understand the challenges we face when helping women with eFGR babies and improving their chance of life outside the womb. 

Continuing to lower the stillbirth rate 

While these new statistics are heartening, it is more important than ever that we continue to reduce in the national stillbirth rate and work towards finding answers for parents. 

Tommy’s research is helping to change this. Our world leading research and awareness campaigns, such as Sleep on Side and Movements Matter, are working to inform and raise awareness of the risks of stillbirth in an effort to continue this reducing stillbirth rate.

Tommy's Recent achievements

  • In St. Mary’s Hospital, we lowered the average number of stillbirths by 19% from 2012 to 2017. This is equivalent to 12 fewer babies dying every year.
  • In Edinburgh, obese women attending our antenatal clinic were an astounding 8 times less likely to have a stillbirth than women receiving standard care.
  • We have developed a new way of looking at the placenta using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This will help doctors tell which women have healthy pregnancies and which babies may be struggling
  • The AFFIRM study is looking at whether a package of care and information for women with reduced fetal movements can lower the number of stillbirths. When a similar package was introduced in Norway, stillbirth rates fell by 30%.

Read stories from our supporters about their experiences of stillbirth and neonatal death.

Visit our section of information and support on stillbirth.

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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. We can keep you updated on our research news.  If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.

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