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Making stillbirths visible: A systematic review of globally reported causes of stillbirth

Plain language summary from BJOG's Stillbirth themed issue
Read the full study


Background and methods

Nearly three million babies are stillborn every year. These deaths have deep and long-lasting effects on parents, health care providers, and the society. One of the major challenges to preventing stillbirths is the lack of information about why they happen. In this study, we collected reports on the causes of stillbirth from high-, middle-, and low-income countries to: (1) Understand the causes of stillbirth, and (2) Understand how to improve reporting of stillbirths.



We found 85 reports from 50 different countries. The information available from the reports was inconsistent and often of poor quality, so it was hard to get a clear picture about what are the causes of stillbirth across the world. Many different definitions of stillbirth were used. There was also wide variation in what investigations of the mother and baby were undertaken to identify the cause of stillbirth. Stillbirths in all income settings (low-, middle-, and high-income countries) were most frequently reported as Unexplained, Other, and Haemorrhage (bleeding)Unexplained and Other are not helpful in understanding why a baby was stillborn. In low-income countries, stillbirths were often attributed to Infection and Complications during labour and birth. In middle- and high-income countries, stillbirths were often reported as Placental complications.



We may have missed some reports as searches were carried out in English only. The available reports were of poor quality.



Many countries, particularly those where the majority of stillbirths occur, do not report any information about these deaths. Where there are reports, the quality is often poor. It is important to improve the investigation and reporting of stillbirth using a standardised system so that policy makers and healthcare workers can develop effective stillbirth prevention programs. All stillbirths should be investigated and reported in line with the World Health Organization standards.


Reproduced from: Reinebrant HE, Leisher SH, Coory M, Henry S, Wojcieszek AM, Gardener G, Lourie R, Ellwood D, Teoh Z, Allanson E, Blencowe H, Draper ES, Erwich JJ, Frøen JF, Gardosi J, Gold K, Gordijn S, Gordon A, Heazell AEP, Khong TY, Korteweg F, Lawn JE, McClure EM, Oats J, Pattinson R, Pettersson K, Siassakos D, Silver RM, Smith G, Tuncalp €O, Flenady V. Making stillbirths visible: a systematic review of globally reported causes of stillbirth. BJOG 2018;125:212–224;