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Stillbirths are reported as one of the most neglected tragedies in global health, with around 2m stillbirths occurring annually and the majority occurring in low- and middle income countries (LMICs). Many antenatal stillbirths are due to preventable conditions such as maternal infections and non-communicable diseases. Almost half of all stillbirths occur during the intrapartum period, with many linked to obstetric complications. Known risk factors for stillbirths overall include young or advancing maternal age, fetal infection, maternal hypertensive conditions, perinatal asphyxia, history of previous stillbirth, obstetric complications, intrauterine growth restriction and abruptio placenta/placenta praevia. Common non-clinical risk factors include lack of education, socioeconomic deprivation and substandard antenatal care.
A single site prospective observational study conducted over three-months was conducted in a tertiary referral hospital in Kano, Nigeria. Eligible participants were mothers presenting at the site in labour and their babies.
Demographic and clinical data were collected by paper-based questionnaires. Data were collected on living environment, health and medical history, pregnancy history and pregnancy/birth factors. Each mother answered pre-delivery questions, with potential follow-on questions dependent on birth outcome. Further data points were collected from clinical observations. Photographs were taken of stillborn babies to support data collected and to aid the UK team on classifying degrees of maceration in an attempt to identify antenatal and intrapartum fetal death.
Higher odds of stillbirth were associated with low levels of education, a further distance to travel from home to the hospital, living in a shack, maternal hypertension and having had a previous stillbirth after adjusting for all sociodemographic and health features. Higher odds of intrapartum stillbirth included; shoulder presentation, compound presentation and breech presentation compared to cephalic presentation. Other birth related factors associated with higher odds of stillbirth included reported birthing complications, duration of labour being >=18 hours), antepartum haemorrhage, prolonged/obstructed labour, vaginal breech delivery, emergency Caesarean-section delivery, and signs of trauma to the neonate.
Identified risk factors associated with stillbirths are relatively amenable to intervention and a lot of work has been conducted globally, so the development of intervention with sufficient funding should be a relatively rapid process.
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