Every year in the United States, about 24,000 pregnancies end in stillbirth — when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy. For decades, public health researchers have been trying to figure out how to bring that number down, with some success.
But a new analysis published Wednesday in the journal PLOS Medicine suggests that the progress has stalled in recent years.
Between 2000 and 2011, the stillbirth rate in the U.S. declined by about 9 percent, the study found. But between 2011 and 2017, the rate was essentially flat.
“It’s very disappointing,” says study author Dr. Elliott Main, medical director of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative.
Main and his colleagues analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System to see how the stillbirth rate has changed over time. They also looked at data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, a national survey of women’s health, to see if there were any changes in the prevalence of risk factors for stillbirth.
They found that the rates of some risk factors, such as diabetes and obesity, have been increasing in recent years. That may help explain why the stillbirth rate has plateaued, Main says.
The findings “reinforce the need for renewed public health efforts to address these risk factors,” he says.
Main says there are a number of things that can be done to reduce the risk of stillbirth, including better management of diabetes and obesity during pregnancy. He also says it’s important to make sure that women have access to good prenatal care.
“There’s a lot we can do to improve outcomes,” he says. “We need to do better.”
For nearly three decades, the US has been engaged in a national effort to reduce its stillbirth rate. Unfortunately, this progress has stalled in recent years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the stillbirth rate in the US was 7.2 per 1,000 live births in 2015. This is a slight increase from the rate of 6.9 per 1,000 live births in 2012. While this may not seem like a large increase, it is significant because it reverses the trend of decline that had been seen in the stillbirth rate in the US since 1987.
There are many possible explanations for why the US’s stillbirth rate has stalled in recent years. One possibility is that the underlying causes of stillbirth are complex and not fully understood. Additionally, many pregnant women in the US do not have access to quality healthcare. This is especially true for women of color and women who live in rural areas.
There is still much work to be done in order to reduce the stillbirth rate in the US. However, it is clear that the current efforts are not sufficient. It is imperative that we find new ways to lower the stillbirth rate in our country.