This is the safest time in history to have a baby as fewer babies than ever before are dying shortly before or after birth.

A recently-released report shows one stillbirth for every 196 births in 2015. This is a significant improvement from when reporting first began in 2007, when there was one stillbirth for every 178 births.

The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee's Eleventh Annual Report reviewed the deaths of babies and mothers in New Zealand and advises the Health Quality & Safety Commission on how to reduce these deaths.

PMMRC chair Dr Sue Belgrave said initiatives to improve pregnancy care probably contributed to the reductions in deaths.


"These include reduced rates of smoking among pregnant women, better and earlier access to antenatal care so that risk factors such as small babies and maternal diabetes can be detected and managed, and there was a decrease in births among teenage women suggesting improved access to contraception.

"Each death is a tragedy for the family and whanau involved, and it is very important to reduce these deaths and enhance maternity care in New Zealand."

There was also a reduction in stillbirths, from 369 in 2007 to 305 in 2015.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government was aiming for a sudden unexpected death in infancy rate of 0.1 in every 1000 births. The rate is currently 0.7 for every 1000 births and 1.59 for Maori babies.

By reducing the overall rate of SUDI by 86 per cent and 94 per cent for Maori by 2025, the number of SUDI deaths would be reduced from 44 to six.

From September the Government will provide wahakura or baby boxes to families identified as needing them.

"The National SUDI Prevention Programme will target two of the biggest preventable risks for SUDI, which are being exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and having the baby sharing a bed," Coleman said.

"To support this new approach we're investing an extra $2 million into the programme, taking its annual budget to $5 million."


Belgrave said it is important women are well supported throughout and after their pregnancy.

"This includes registering with a lead maternity carer within the first three months of your pregnancy, and if you are a smoker, receiving help and support to quit. If you are feeling depressed or stressed, tell your doctor or midwife - they can help."

Other report findings include:

• The neonatal mortality rate has not changed from 2007 to 2015

• There has been a statistically significant reduction in fetal deaths (stillbirths and late terminations of pregnancy combined) from 2007 and 2015

• There were an unusually high number of deaths of babies at 41 weeks' gestation in 2015

• There were 11 maternal deaths in 2015 and 2007

• The maternal death rate for Maori mothers is almost double that of New Zealand European mothers

• Suicide of mothers accounted for 26 per cent of maternal deaths from 2006 to 2015, and Maori women were over-represented in deaths from suicide.