Stillbirth in developing countries: A review of causes, risk factors and prevention strategies

Elizabeth M. McClure, Sarah Saleem, Omrana Pasha, Robert L. Goldenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

145 Citations (Scopus)


Objective. To understand the rates, causes and risk factors for stillbirth in developing countries as well as the strategies that have been evaluated to reduce stillbirth. Methods. We searched the English literature for 20032008 for all articles related to stillbirth and perinatal mortality in developing countries and reviewed all related publications. Results. Despite the large number of stillbirths worldwide, the topic of stillbirths in developing countries has received very little research, programmatic or policy attention. In many developing countries, almost half of the deliveries occur at home, and under-reporting of stillbirths is a significant problem. Reliable data about rates and causes are unavailable in many areas of the world. Nevertheless, of the estimated 3.2 million stillbirths that occur yearly world-wide, the vast majority occur in developing countries. Rates in many developing countries are 10-fold greater or more than in developed countries. There is not a standard international classification system that defines cause of death, nor is there agreement about the lower limits of birthweight or gestational age that define stillbirth, making comparisons of causes of stillbirth or rates over time or between sites problematic. From available data, prolonged and obstructed labour, pre-eclampsia and various infections, all without adequate treatment, appear to account for the majority of stillbirths in developing countries. Identification and treatment of maternal syphilis has been effective in reducing stillbirth risk, as has improvements in access to emergency obstetrical services and particularly caesarean section. Conclusions. Further research is needed to understand the causes and the best preventive strategies for stillbirth specific to geographic areas. However, based on current data, better access to appropriate obstetric care, particularly during labour and delivery and better screening and treatment of syphilis should reduce developing country stillbirth rates dramatically.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-190
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Developing countries
  • Perinatal mortality
  • Stillbirth


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