Many people think that stillbirths happen because of a developmental or genetic problem that means the baby could not survive. In fact, this is the case for fewer than one in ten stillborn babies.  For as many as 6 in 10 stillborn babies, the cause of death is not known.

Placental problems

The placenta is the temporary organ that joins the woman and the baby, allowing nutrients and oxygen to pass to the baby and the baby’s waste products to pass back to the mother. Some stillbirths happen because the placenta doesn’t function properly. This may happen gradually, and it may not be picked up by current routine antenatal monitoring.

A baby who doesn’t get the right balance of nutrients may grow more slowly than expected. So a tailing off of a baby’s growth during pregnancy can signal a problem. Babies who are becoming poorly may move less often, too.

Sands is funding the AFFIRM study that asks whether encouraging women to be aware of their baby’s movements and to tell their midwife promptly if their baby’s movements have changed could help reduce the number of stillbirths. If you are pregnant and are concerned about your baby’s movements, please contact your maternity unit.

We have also funded research looking at scanning in third trimester, which is aimed at improving methods for identifying babies who are not growing as they should.

Other causes

Other causes of stillbirth include:

  • bleeding (haemorrhage) before or during labour
  • placental abruption, when the placenta separates from the womb before the baby is born
  • complications of pre-eclampsia, which is linked with the placenta and causes high blood pressure
  • the umbilical cord slipping down through the entrance of the womb before the baby is born (known as cord prolapse) or wrapping around the baby’s neck
  • intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), a liver disorder
  • genetic conditions
  • infection (go to NHS Choices for more information)

Incidents during birth

Around 500 babies die every year because of a trauma or event during birth that was not anticipated or well managed. Some babies are stillborn and some die after birth.  Many of these deaths, when they occur at term, could be avoided with better care.

Neonatal deaths

Neonatal deaths are usually linked with:

  • prematurity or low birthweight, both of which increase the likelihood of serious health problems
  • genetic disorders

How many babies die?

Sadly, the death of a baby is not a rare tragedy: around 15 babies died before, during or soon after birth every day in the UK. 


In the UK in 2015, one in every 227 births was a stillbirth, and there were 3,434 stillbirths in total. That’s around nine babies stillborn every day

Around one-third of stillbirths happen after 37 weeks of pregnancy

Stillbirths account for more than half of the deaths of infants under one year in the UK.

Stillbirth rates remained largely unchanged from the late 1990s to 2011. Since then, the rate has declined and it is now at its lowest level since 1992. But more deaths could be prevented.

Neonatal deaths

In the UK in 2015, 1,652 babies died within the first week of their lives, and another 465 died within the following three weeks

The number of babies who die in the neonatal period (the first 28 days after birth) has dropped over the last decade, largely because of advances in medical knowledge and clinical care.

In 2015, one in 370 babies died in the first four weeks of life in the UK.


A stillborn baby is one who has died before or during birth at or after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

A neonatal death happens in the first 28 days after birth. A death in the first seven days is called an early neonatal death.

Stillbirths and early neonatal deaths are sometimes referred to as perinatal deaths.


Office for National Statistics: death registrations summary data 2015. Available from:

National Records of Scotland: vital events. Available from:

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency: Registrar Annual General Report. Available from:

MBRRACE-UK Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report: UK Perinatal Deaths for Births from January to December 2014. Available from: