Stillbirths and infant deaths among migrants in industrialized countries

Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2009;88(2):134-48. doi: 10.1080/00016340802603805.


Introduction: The relation of migration to infant outcomes is unclear. There are studies which show that some migrant groups have similar or even better outcomes than those from the receiving country. Equally, raised risk of adverse outcomes for other migrant groups has been reported.

Objective: We sought to determine (1) if migrants in western industrialized countries have consistently higher risks of stillbirth, neonatal mortality, or infant mortality, (2) if there are migrant sub-groups at potentially higher risk, and (3) what might be the explanations for any risk differences found.

Design and setting: Systematic review of the literature on perinatal health outcomes among migrants in western industrialized countries.

Methods and main outcome measures: Drawing on a larger systematic review of perinatal outcomes and migration, we reviewed studies including mortality outcomes (stillbirths and infant deaths).

Results: Eligible studies gave conflicting results. Half (53%) reported worse mortality outcomes, one third (35%) reported no differences and a few (13%) reported better outcomes for births to migrants compared to the receiving country population. Refugees were the most vulnerable group. For non-refugees, non-European migrants in Europe and foreign-born blacks in the United States had the highest excess mortality. In general, adjustment of background factors did not explain the increased mortality rate among migrants. Regarding causes of death, higher preterm birth rates explained the increased mortality figures among some migrant groups. The increased mortality from congenital anomalies may be related to restricted access to screening, but also to differing attitudes to screening and termination of pregnancy.

Conclusions: Mortality risk among babies born to migrants is not consistently higher, but appears to be greatest among refugees, non-European migrants to Europe, and foreign-born blacks in the US. To understand this variation better, more information is needed about migrant background, such as length of time in receiving country and receiving country language fluency. Additional data on demographic, health care, biological, medical, and socioeconomic risk factors should be gathered and analyzed in greater detail.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Developed Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality / ethnology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Refugees / statistics & numerical data
  • Stillbirth / ethnology*
  • Transients and Migrants / statistics & numerical data*