Context: Maternal and fetal trauma is an important cause of adverse fetal outcomes. However, systematic exclusion from US injury surveillance programs of even the most severe outcome, fetal/neonatal death, has led to a lack of understanding about frequency, causes, and prevention.
Objective: To determine the rate of traumatic fetal deaths reported in state fetal death registries and the types of trauma and physiologic diagnoses associated with these deaths.
Design and setting: Retrospective descriptive study of fetal death certificates from 1995 through 1997 obtained from 16 states, which accounted for 55% of US live births and approximately 15 000 fetal death registrations per year.
Main outcome measure: Rate of fetal injury deaths, based on fetal death certificates coded with an underlying cause of death due to maternal injury at 20 weeks' gestation or later, by cause.
Results: During the 3-year study period, 240 traumatic fetal injury deaths were identified (3.7 fetal deaths per 100 000 live births). Motor vehicle crashes were the leading trauma mechanism (82% of cases; 2.3 fetal deaths per 100 000 live births), followed by firearm injuries (6% of cases) and falls (3% of cases). In 3 states, reported crash-related fetal deaths exceeded that of crash-related infant deaths. Placental injury was mentioned in 100 cases (42%) and maternal death was noted in 27 cases (11%). A peak rate of 9.3 fetal deaths per 100 000 live births was observed among 15- to 19-year-old women.
Conclusions: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of fetal deaths related to maternal trauma. Improved tracking of traumatic fetal injury deaths is important to stimulate and guide research and efforts to reduce the risks to women and fetuses from injury during pregnancy.