Challenges in classification and assignment of causes of stillbirths in low- and lower middle-income countries

Semin Perinatol. 2019 Aug;43(5):308-314. doi: 10.1053/j.semperi.2019.03.021. Epub 2019 Mar 16.


Stillbirths account for 2.6 million deaths annually. 98% occur in low- and lower middle-income countries. Accurate classification of stillbirths in low-resource settings is challenged by poor pregnancy dating and infrequent access to electronic heart rate monitoring for both the newborn and fetus. In these settings, liveborn infants may be misclassified as stillbirths, and stillbirths may be misclassified as miscarriages. Causation is available for only 3% of stillbirths globally due to the absence of registration systems. In low-resource settings where culture and autopsy are infrequently available, clinical course is used to assign cause of stillbirth. This method may miss rare or subtle causes, as well as those with non-specific clinical presentations. Verbal autopsy is another technique for assigning cause of stillbirth when objective medical data are limited. This method requires family engagement and physician attribution of cause. As interventions to reduce stillbirths in LMICs are increasingly implemented, attention to accurate classification and assignment of causes of stillbirth are critical to charting progress.

Keywords: Low-resource setting; Stillbirth.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / classification*
  • Adult
  • Cause of Death
  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases
  • Maternal Health Services*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Stillbirth*
  • World Health Organization