The number of babies stillborn or dying in the first weeks of life has increased in the UK, reversing an eight-year trend.
An annual report from researchers at Oxford and Leicester universities shows there were 3.54 stillbirths per 1,000 births in 2021, up from 3.33 in 2020.
A similar increase was seen in neonatal deaths (when a baby dies within 28 days of being born) from 1.53 per 1,000 live births in 2020 to 1.
65 in 2021.
Premature births increased by 1.5 percent.
Researchers said the figures end the “steady reduction in rates in the UK since 2013”, while charities warned the figures paint “an alarming picture of baby loss”.
Stillbirth rates increased among all gestational age groups, with a 12% increase in stillbirths among babies born between 28 and 31 weeks.
The data was published by Mothers and Babies: Reduction Risk Through Audit and Confidential Inquiries (MBRRACE-UK), which is jointly led by Oxford Population Health’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) and the Child Mortality and Morbidity Studies (TIMMS). ) from the University of Leicester. ).
It shows that 698,909 babies were born at 24 weeks (classified as extremely premature) or later in the UK in 2021, an increase of 1.5 per cent on 2020.
Stillbirth rates increased among all gestational age groups, with a 12 percent increase in stillbirths among babies born between 28 and 31 weeks.
Babies born before 37 weeks accounted for 75 percent of stillbirths and late fetal losses, as well as 73 percent of neonatal deaths.
The most common causes of stillbirth were placenta, congenital anomalies, umbilical cord and infections, and more than half (51.7 percent) were included in these groups.
What is a stillbirth?
A stillbirth occurs when a baby is born after 24 weeks of pregnancy. If a baby dies before 24 weeks of pregnancy, it is known as pregnancy loss.
Not all stillbirths can be prevented; However, not smoking or drinking, as well as not sleeping on your back and attending all prenatal appointments can reduce the risk.
What are the signs?
Signs may include that the baby is not moving as much as normal.
Pregnant women should contact their doctor immediately if they notice a difference in their baby’s movements.
What are the causes?
Stillbirths do not always have an obvious cause, but can occur due to complications with the placenta or a birth defect.
They are also more likely to occur if women suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes or an infection that affects the baby, such as the flu.
Stillbirths are more likely to occur if women have twins or multiple pregnancies, are overweight, smoke, are over 35 years old, or have a pre-existing condition such as epilepsy.
What happens after a stillbirth?
If a baby has died, women can wait for labor to begin naturally or be induced if their health is at risk.
Grief support groups are available for parents who have experienced a stillbirth.
Some find it helpful to name their baby or take pictures with them.
Fountain: NHS options
But there was a “substantial proportion” of stillbirths whose cause of death was classified as unknown.
About 77 percent of neonatal deaths were due to congenital anomalies, extreme prematurity, neurological and cardiorespiratory diseases and infections.
In 2019, the Government committed to halving the rate of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries that occur during childbirth by 2025.
But Robert Wilson, head of Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit, said the MBRRACE-UK report “makes clear that inaction is costing babies lives”.
‘It paints an alarming picture of baby loss across the UK and the situation described in this report is simply unacceptable.
“This requires a comprehensive response from all levels of government that is commensurate with the urgency and scale of the problem.”
The figures also showed “notable increases” in stillbirths among women from disadvantaged areas or certain ethnic backgrounds, indicating a “widening inequalities”.
Around 4.69 per 1,000 babies were stillborn among women in the most disadvantaged groups, compared to 2.37 per 1,000 in the least disadvantaged groups.
Stillbirth rates were also higher among women of black (7.52 per 1,000) and Asian (5.15 per 1,000) ethnicities, compared to white women (3.30 per 1,000).
Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit called for “urgent action” to “address the multiple factors driving inequality” in its “Saving Babies’ Lives” progress report in May.
It called for measures to “ensure everyone receives care to nationally agreed standards and a greater focus on learning lessons when babies die.”
Mr Wilson added: “We continue to hear these heartbreaking statistics, but saving baby lives and tackling inequalities in pregnancy and baby loss are still not the political priorities they deserve to be.”
Dr Habib Naqvi, chief executive of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said the “disproportionate mortality rates” of black babies were “alarming”.
She added: “Urgent action is needed to address the serious challenges faced by mothers of black and minority ethnic newborns to significantly improve assessment and care practices.”
‘Black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth compared to white women, and women of Asian origin face twice the risk of maternal mortality.
“Frankly, these are unacceptable statistics – mothers and babies are paying with their lives for the lack of action against ethnic inequalities.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.