Objective: the poor perinatal mortality ranking of the Netherlands compared to other European countries has led to questioning the safety of primary care births, particularly those at home. Primary care births are only planned at term. We therefore examined to which extent the perinatal mortality rate at term in the Netherlands contributes to its poor ranking.
Design: secondary analyses using published data from the Euro-PERISTAT study.
Setting and participants: women that gave birth in 2004 in the 29 European regions and countries called 'countries' included in the Euro-PERISTAT study (4,328,441 women in total and 1,940,977 women at term).
Methods: odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated for the comparison of perinatal mortality rates between European countries and the Netherlands, through logistic regression analyses using summary country data.
Main outcome measures: combined perinatal mortality rates overall and at term. Perinatal deaths below 28 weeks, between 28 and 37 weeks and from 37 weeks onwards per 1000 total births.
Findings: compared to the Netherlands, perinatal mortality rates at term were significantly higher for Denmark and Latvia and not significantly different compared to seven other countries. Eleven countries had a significantly lower rate, and for eight the term perinatal mortality rate could not be compared. The Netherlands had the highest number of perinatal deaths before 28 weeks per 1000 total births (4.3).
Key conclusions: the relatively high perinatal mortality rate in the Netherlands is driven more by extremely preterm births than births at term. Although the PERISTAT data cannot be used to show that the Dutch maternity care system is safe, neither should they be used to argue that the system is unsafe. The PERISTAT data alone do not support changes to the Dutch maternity care system that reduce the possibility for women to choose a home birth while benefits of these changes are uncertain.
Keywords: Home birth; Midwifery; Perinatal mortality; Primary health care.
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