Stillbirth Facts

Facts about Stillbirth in Australia

Stillbirth, the birth of a baby without signs of life after 20 weeks’ gestation, is a poorly understood loss for families and a serious public health problem. 

In Australia, over 2,000 families each year suffer this loss, and there has been no improvement in stillbirth rates for over 20 years.  One in every 137 women who reach 20 weeks’ gestation will have a stillborn child. 

Stillbirths are ten times more common than Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but receive far less attention.  For Indigenous and other disadvantaged and minority groups, this risk is often doubled. 

Our research shows many stillbirths are potentially preventable.  Urgent action is needed, particularly to better understand the role of risk factors and identify women at increased risk.

Psychological impacts of stillbirth

The death of an unborn child has enormous psychosocial impact on parents and care providers, and wide-ranging economic impact on health systems and society at large.  Bereaved parents face heightened risks of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and suicidal ideation. 

The care parents receive in hospital is often substandard.  Stigma intensifies parents’ distress and social isolation. 

Our data have shown that up to 50% of bereaved parents in Australia and New Zealand (NZ) feel unable to talk about their babies and that their baby is not acknowledged or valued.  Further, we need to improve knowledge on causes and contributors of stillbirth; both for the parents and for future prevention.

Many stillbirths are not appropriately investigated or classified in terms of their cause resulting in up to 60% of stillbirths near term classified as “unexplained”. 

The lack of a diagnosis adds to parents’ distress, as they struggle to understand “what went wrong” and “will it happen again” in a subsequent pregnancy.

In The Lancet 2016 Ending Preventable Stillbirths series we emphasise that the poor global response to stillbirth is a persistent injustice to families and communities, particularly for developed regions with the means to take effective action.