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Action urged over stillbirth rate

Urgent action is needed to tackle Britain's high rate of stillbirths and deaths in the first few weeks of life, according to a new report.

The number of stillbirths in the UK is "shocking" and up to 1,200 could be avoided every year, the charity Sands said.

Seventeen babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth every day - a figure that has barely changed since the late 1990s. In 2010, 4,110 babies were stillborn, another 1,850 babies died in the first hours or days of life, and a further 507 died aged between one and four weeks.

Sands is calling for a range of measures to bring down the number of deaths, including research into scans and tools that may identify babies at risk, particularly later in pregnancy, and increased public awareness of the risks for expectant mothers.

"Stillbirth is where cot death was 30 years ago," the report said. "There is still so much to be done."

Last April, Britain's record of stillbirths was condemned as a "national scandal" after it was shown to be one of the worst in the developed world.

More babies are born dead in the UK than almost anywhere else among the richer nations, experts writing in The Lancet said. The figure is 10 times the toll of cot deaths and more than the number of people killed on the roads.

There are also large regional differences. For a woman in the Midlands, the chances of having a stillborn child are a third greater than they would be if she lived in the South West.

Of all the high-income countries, only New Zealand, Austria and France have higher stillbirth rates than the UK. The UK's record puts it on a par with Belarus and Estonia.

Common causes of stillbirth include congenital malformations, maternal medical problems and birth complications and infections. Risk factors for women include being over 35 years of age, carrying excess weight, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and multiple pregnancies, belonging to an ethnic minority group and social deprivation.

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