With nearly two unborn (or very newly born) New Zealand babies dying every day, more money needs to be invested in keeping pregnant women and their babies healthy, a maternity expert says.

Cindy Farquhar, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Auckland, says the number of babies who are stillborn or die within four weeks of birth is higher than New Zealand's road toll, yet funding is minimal compared with the millions of dollars poured into road safety campaigns.

Farquhar chaired the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which this week released a report showing one in four unborn baby deaths remain unexplained.

The committee reviewed the 11 maternal deaths and 677 baby deaths - from 20 weeks gestation and up to 28 days after birth - that occurred in 2007.

Five of the 11 women died from complications of pregnancy and could have been saved with better treatment and communication, the report said. Factors in their deaths included poor management of high blood pressure and lack of co-operation between health professionals caring for pregnant women with medical problems.

Lack of monitoring during pregnancy is among suspected reasons for the high unborn baby death toll.

The report's list of recommendations includes encouraging women to see a midwife before 10 weeks so the baby's growth can be monitored, diet and health information can be given, and screening and specialist advice recommended if necessary.

For example, the report says, if small babies are detected early they have a greater chance of survival.

It also recommends a national campaign to highlight information pregnant women need to know.

Research shows over 600 babies are stillborn or die within 28 days of birth yearly - and that does not count the thousands of undocumented early miscarriages.

Farquhar said research into baby deaths struggled to attract government funding despite its high statistics.

Funding for perinatal death support and research, to help reduce these deaths, is minimal in comparison to the millions poured into road safety campaigns, she said.

The report highlighted the need for further education on the risk of babies dying from unsafe sleeping practices, smoking during pregnancy, and the importance of wearing three-point seatbelts with the lapstrap beneath the bump.

Farquhar said she suspected the low funding into baby and maternal deaths was due to them not being very "visible" because of the private nature of the deaths.

"Couples go through an intense grief process ... and there is a tendency to underestimate the sustained emotional impact baby loss has."

The grief of having a stillbirth

The weeks after Megan McNaughton lost her baby son, Crispin, at 26 weeks' gestation were a "blur" of grief.

McNaughton, 31, from Auckland, said a 19-week scan showed the baby was not growing well.

A fault in McNaughton's placenta meant the baby suffered from IUGR (Intra Uterine Growth Restriction) and was delivered stillborn at 26 weeks in January last year, weighing just 450g.

The days, weeks and months following were "a blur" for McNaughton and her and husband Phil Bingley.

Desperate to have a child, the couple decided to try for another baby and were delighted when McNaughton fell pregnant.

Because of the previous placenta problems, this time she injected herself daily with anti-clotting medicine.

In December last year the couple had a son, Miller.

"I don't think I will ever get over losing Crispin but with each day, and the love of my husband, family and Miller, I know that I will get used to not having him around," said McNaughton.

She encouraged people who lost a baby to seek help from the Nurture Foundation (www.nurture.org.nz) and Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support (www.sands.org.nz).