Australia is one of the safest places in the world for a baby to be born, yet death occurring within the perinatal period is not uncommon. Every day in Australia, 6 babies are stillborn and 2 die within 28 days of birth (neonatal death).

In 2017, there were:

  • 305,667 babies born to 301,095 women
  • 2,924 perinatal deaths (1.0% of babies born). Of these deaths, almost 75% were stillbirths (2,173) and just over 25% (751) were neonatal deaths
  • 9.6 perinatal deaths per 1,000 births (7.1 stillbirths per 1,000 births and 2.5 neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births).

Although perinatal mortality rates have remained relatively unchanged since 1998, two categories decreased over the period:

  • neonatal deaths of babies born at 23 weeks gestation or more
  • deaths occurring in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Perinatal mortality rates, Australia, 1998-2017 

The stacked continuous line graph shows that perinatal mortality rates in Australia have decreased from 10.0 perinatal deaths per 1,000 total births in 1998 to 9.6 perinatal deaths per 1,000 total births in 2017. The rate of stillbirths in Australia has increased from 6.9 per 1,000 births in 1998 to 7.1 per 1,000 total births in 2017, while the rate of neonatal deaths in Australia has decreased from 3.1 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 2.5 per 1,000 live births in 2017.

Perinatal death data reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) are not directly comparable with the National Perinatal Mortality Data Collection (NPMDC) and National Perinatal Data Collection (NPDC) data. ABS data are sourced from state and territory registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages. NPMDC and NPDC data are sourced from midwives and other staff, who collect information from mothers and perinatal administrative and clinical record systems. For more information on the NPMDC and NPDC and definitions used for reporting perinatal deaths please refer to the Technical Notes—Definitions used in reporting.

World Health Organization international definition for perinatal deaths

For the purposes of international comparison, stillbirths and neonatal deaths are defined as third trimester perinatal deaths—greater than or equal to 28 weeks gestational age and/or greater than or equal to 1,000 grams birthweight (WHO 2015). This differs from the standard definitions used for stillbirths and neonatal deaths in Australia—greater than or equal to 20 weeks' gestational age or greater than and/or equal to 400 grams birthweight.

The WHO definitions result in reporting of babies who are larger and more mature than the definitions applied in Australia. This means Australian perinatal mortality rates reported using the WHO definitions are lower than those reported using Australian definitions.

Using the WHO definitions (perinatal deaths from the third trimester):

  • The rate of stillbirths in Australia has decreased from 3.3 per 1,000 births in 1998 to 2.3 per 1,000 births in 2017.
  • The rate of neonatal deaths in Australia has decreased from 1.5 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 0.9 per 1,000 live births in 2017.

Perinatal mortality rates using the WHO international standards for reporting, Australia, 1998 to 2017

The stacked continuous line graph shows that perinatal mortality rates using the WHO international standards for reporting have fallen from 1998 to 2017. The rate of stillbirths in Australia has decreased from 3.3 per 1,000 births in 1998 to 2.3 per 1,000 births in 2017, while the rate of neonatal deaths in Australia has decreased from 1.5 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 0.9 per 1,000 live births in 2017.