Significant drop in single-birth newborn deaths

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

There has been a significant reduction in the number of deaths of single-birth newborns, but the death rate for multiple births jumped in the six years to 2011, according to a perinatal mortality report.

The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) began analysing perinatal mortality data in 2007.

Perinatal-related mortality is foetal deaths and early and late neonatal deaths from 20 weeks gestation up to 28 days after birth.

The committee's report found there were three deaths per 1000 births in New Zealand in 2011, compared with 3.6 deaths per 1000 births in 2007.

That equals a drop of nearly 50 deaths - from 237 to 188.

The committee said the reduction in the perinatal mortality rate was likely to be due to a drop in the rate of babies dying during labour and dying from oxygen deprivation around the time of birth.

The rate of stillborn babies also dropped significantly, the report found.

For babies at term, deaths more than halved, with nine deaths during labour in 2011 and 26 deaths during labour in 2007.

The number of babies dying around the time of birth from oxygen deprivation dropped from 16 in 2007 to four in 2011.

"It's extremely encouraging to see a reduction for the first time in the number of babies who are dying during labour and dying from insufficient oxygen around the time of birth,'' said PMMRC chairwoman Professor Cynthia Farquhar.

There were eight maternal deaths in 2011 - a figure that remained static for each of the last six years.

The news was not so positive for the death rate for babies born in multiple births, which had increased, from 32 per 1000 births in 2007 to 53 per 1000 births in 2011.

In 2011, mortality reviews carried out by District Health Boards reported that 19 per cent of perinatal deaths were potentially avoidable.

The most common contributing factors to these deaths were barriers to access or engagement with care - most commonly, late or infrequent access to antenatal care.

These were followed by personnel factors; often failure to follow recommended best practice.

Maori, Pacific and Indian mothers, and women from low-socioeconomic areas were significantly more likely to experience a perinatal death, the report said.

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Committee's recommendations:

* all women having assisted reproduction, such as IVF, be offered transfer of a single embryo, rather than two or more;

* all GPs and midwives need to offer antenatal screening to check for congenital abnormalities; and

* due to the number of unplanned pregnancies, all New Zealand bread needs to be fortified with folic acid.

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