Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Trends in perinatal mortality and cerebral palsy in Western Australia, 1967 to 1985.

British Medical Journal 1992; 304 doi: (Published 27 June 1992) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1992;304:1658
  1. F. J. Stanley,
  2. L. Watson
  1. Western Australian Research Institute for Child Health, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children.


    OBJECTIVE--To analyse the trends in stillbirths, neonatal deaths, and cerebral palsy in all infants born in Western Australia from 1967 to 1985. To relate these trends to changes in perinatal care, particularly in relation to avoidance of intrapartum asphyxia in term infants and the increased survival of low birthweight infants. DESIGN--Descriptive epidemiological study calculating population rates for perinatal deaths and cerebral palsy according to year of birth and birth weight. SETTING--Western Australia. SUBJECTS--All infants born after 20 weeks' gestation or weighing at least 400 g (live and stillborn). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Stillbirths, neonatal deaths (from perinatal death certificates), and cerebral palsy (from a population based register). RESULTS--Overall stillbirth rates fell from 12.1/1000 total births in 1967-70 to 8.1 in 1983-5. Early neonatal mortality fell from 13.0/1000 live births to 4.4 over the same period whereas total cerebral palsy rates remained at around 2-2.5/1000 live births. Death rates fell in all birth weight categories, particularly in low birthweight infants between 1975 and 1985, the period when birthweight data were available. In contrast, cerebral palsy rates in infants under 1500 g rose significantly over this period (from 12.1 in 1968 to 64.9 in 1985). The rise was seen in all spastic categories, including severely and multiply handicapped children. CONCLUSIONS--Large increases in the use of interventions aimed at reducing birth asphyxia and handicaps had not (by 1985) resulted in lower rates of cerebral palsy. This suggests that birth asphyxia is not a major cause. The increased survival of low birthweight infants has resulted in more cerebral palsy in this group, due either to postnatal complications of immaturity or prenatal damage to the fetal brain. These findings have implications for planning perinatal care and for litigation for putative obstetric malpractice in cerebral palsy cases.