Denmark leading the way in reducing the number of stillbirths

New Danish study documents that Denmark has one of the lowest numbers of stillbirths in the world.
In Denmark, fewer and fewer women have to experience losing a full-term foetus before birth. In 2000, Denmark had around 150 stillbirths at full term, but new figures show that this number has now been halved. Danish researchers from the Department of Gynaecology and the Department of Obstetrics at Rigshospitalet have investigated trends in stillbirths after 37 weeks from 2000 to 2012, and they have analysed the reasons for the large and very positive reduction in the risk of late foetal death. 

The study involved 832,935 births, of which 3,770 were stillbirths. The study concludes that the drop in the number of stillbirths is primarily due to an increase in the number of induced deliveries. However, there has also been a considerable fall in the number of women who smoke during pregnancy, and this has also had a positive effect. In the period up to 2012, the number of stillbirths in Denmark halved. The greatest fall was in the period 2009 to 2012. 

This is evident from a study just published by researchers at Rigshospitalet in the international journal BMJ Open. Going a long way past the due date is a well-known risk factor for foetal death. In 2009 Danish recommendations for when to induce labour were therefore changed, so that women are now offered induced delivery before they are two weeks past their term. This change has led to one in four pregnancies now ending with induction and only very few pregnancies continuing past 42 weeks. At the same time, the number of babies that die before they are born has dropped considerably.

In the same period (2000-2012), the number of overweight pregnant women increased slightly, while the average age of women giving birth went up; both of which are factors that moderately increase the risk of foetal death. The Danish study also reveals that the changed practice for inducing labour has not led to an increase in the number of C-sections, while the risk of newborns dying within the first week after birth has gone down by around 50%. So the lower risk of foetal death is not at the cost of higher infant mortality.In 2011-2012, the risk of full-term stillbirth (i.e. from 37 weeks and on) was 0.4 per week per 1,000 continued pregnancies, and 1.4 per 1,000 births. These figures have never been lower in Denmark, and according to available statistics they are the lowest in the world.

The study was carried out by Mette Hedegaard, Medical Student; Professor Øjvind Lidegaard; Morten Hedegaard, Head of Department; Charlotte W. Skovlund, Data Manager; and Lina S. Mørch, Epidemiologist; all from the Department of Gynaecology and the Department of Obstetrics at Rigshospitalet. 

Responsible editor