The new study aimed to find out why the decline in stillbirths has stalled for the U.S. over the last decade.

By Maressa Brown
January 17, 2018
Woman in bed in hospital
Credit: KieferPix/shutterstock

The devastation that is experiencing a stillbirth is something far too many women are experiencing in the U.S. -- particularly given that there are measures we can take to preempt them. In fact, a quarter of all stillbirths could potentially be prevented, notes a new study published in in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The research points out that the number of stillbirths in the country has dropped dramatically since World War II — from roughly 25 deaths per 1,000 live births 75 years ago to just under six deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. But in just the past decade, the U.S. rate has flatlined, while other wealthy countries like the U.K. and Netherlands have seen a steady decline. Meanwhile, America has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and children born in America have a 70 percent greater chance of dying in childhood than those born in peer countries.

So, researchers set out to nail down "preventable" causes of stillbirth by looking at data from the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network. And stillbirths were largely attributed to maternal health disorders, problems during labor, complications due to multiple births, prematurity and problems with the placenta. In fact, the most preventable cause in their opinion was “placental insufficiency" -- or failure of the placenta to develop normally.

The study authors say that while there are tests to screen for minor and major complications with the placenta -- and other issues -- during pregnancy, they could stand to be more sensitive and more advanced. That will obviously take time and innovation to accomplish, but in the meantime, study author Dr. Robert Silver, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center said doctors need to be more attentive to maternal health complications like high blood pressure and diabetes, given that in the study's findings, almost half of potentially preventable stillbirths were linked to these conditions that shouldn't be challenging to identify and treat.

“The three that are the lowest hanging fruit — in other words, the three that there are really, really good treatments that we know about today, but due to access or implementation we aren’t doing enough — are intrapartum stillbirth (so during labor); hypertensive disorders of pregnancy; and medical complications of pregnancy,” Silver told The Huffington Post.

Another hurdle that the U.S. faces compared to other countries: income inequality among women and families, which of course goes hand in hand with healthcare access. The CDC notes that the stillbirth rate for black women is more than twice that of white and Asian women, and black women in the U.S. are at least three times more likely than white women to die during childbirth. At the same time, the new research concluded that preventable stillbirth is more common in poor women with public health insurance.

As disheartening as it is to hear these stark realities, a study that sheds light on these shortcomings is a step in the right direction. With hope, this research will inspire action that will directly impact this unacceptable trend affecting American women and babies.