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Towards an end to stillbirths

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5070 (Published 06 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5070
  1. Alexander E Heazell, clinical lecturer in obstetrics, University of Manchester
  1. alexander.heazell{at}manchester.ac.uk

“I am sorry: I cannot see your baby’s heart beating” are words that parents do not expect to hear. There was no mention of stillbirth in popular books about pregnancy, no suggestion in the shopping catalogues full of smiling babies. I am a doctor, so even though I was aware that pregnancy was not risk free, I did not expect my own unborn child to die. I now realise that our son is one of many such deaths, and the impact of stillbirth is greater than anyone seems to recognise.

On average there are around 10 stillbirths every day in the United Kingdom and more than 4000 a year, the equivalent of a year’s births in many hospitals. The worldwide burden is estimated at 3 000 000 stillbirths a year, 99% of which are in the developing world.1 In the UK the rate of stillbirths has not fallen significantly for more than a decade, remaining at 5.3 per 1000 live births.2 In the same period advances in neonatal care have seen neonatal deaths fall from 4.1 to 3.4 per 1000.2 3 Deaths of infants during labour account for 7.8% of the total number of stillbirths in the UK2 but two thirds of associated litigation, …

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