Fetal and Infant Deaths 2016

Published online: 
20 November 2019

These tables present a summary of fetal and infant deaths, with a focus on deaths and stillbirths registered in 2016.

Information presented includes demographic information (eg, ethnicity and sex), cause of death, gestation and birthweight, as well as deaths classified as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).

Key findings for 2016


  • There were 413 fetal deaths and 241 infant deaths registered in 2016.
  • This equates to a fetal death rate of 6.8 per 1000 total births and an infant death rate of 4.0 per 1000 live births.
  • Between 1996 and 2016, there was a significant decrease in the infant death rate. The rate fell by 45%, from 7.3 to 4.0 per 1000 live births. This decrease was primarily due to a notable decrease in post-neonatal deaths.
  • Over the same time period, the fetal death rate fluctuated between 6.0 and 8.5 per 1000 total births.

Ethnic group

  • Fetal death rates were similar across all the ethnic groups in 2016 (between 6.6 and 7.5 per 1000 total births respectively).
  • Fetal death rates for all the ethnic groups were similar in 2016 compared to the rate for the previous five-year period (2011–2015).
  • Infant death rates in 2016 were highest for the Pacific peoples and Māori ethnic groups (6.2 and 5.9 per 1000 live births, respectively). These rates were significantly higher than rates for the European or Other and Asian ethnic groups (2.8 and 2.5 per 1000 live births, respectively). The same trend was seen over the previous five years.

Maternal age group

  • In 2016, the fetal death rate was significantly higher among mothers aged less than 20 years (13.9 per 1000 total births), than among those mothers aged 20–39 years.
  • Babies of young women (less than 20 years) had the highest infant death rate in 2016 (10.6 per 1000 live births). This rate was significantly higher than babies of women aged between 25 and 39 years.
  • In the previous five-year period (2011–2015) the infant death rate for babies of women aged less than 20 years was significantly higher than for babies of women in all other age groups.

Socioeconomic deprivation

  • In 2016, there were no significant differences between fetal death rate and levels of deprivation.
  • As with the previous five-year period (2011–2015), the highest infant death rates in 2016 were for the most deprived areas (Quintile 5). In the most deprived areas, the infant death rate was more than twice the rate of the least deprived areas (quintile 5, 6.3 per 1000 live births and quintile 1, 2.6 per 1000 live births).


  • Approximately 78% of fetal deaths and 55% of infant deaths registered in 2016 were preterm (<37 weeks’ gestation), the majority of which were very preterm (<28 weeks’ gestation).


  • Approximately 58% of fetal deaths registered in 2016 had a birthweight of less than 1000g. Of these, about 60% had a birthweight of less than 500g. Approximately 39% of infant deaths had a birthweight of less than 1000g, and of these over half (61%) were in the 500–999g birthweight group.

District health board region

  • There were a wide range of fetal and infant death rates across district health board regions (DHBs) in 2016. Rates of death were influenced by the maternal population and demographics, which can differ widely between DHBs. Some rates were based on low numbers, please refer to note below.

Cause of death

  • Approximately 70% of fetal deaths had a cause of death in the ICD-10 chapter group ‘Certain conditions originating in the perinatal period (P00–P96)'.
  • The most common specified cause of fetal death was ‘Slow fetal growth and fetal malnutrition (P05)’, followed by ‘Disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight, not elsewhere classified (P07)’.
  • Fetal death of unspecified cause (P95)’ accounted for 39% of all fetal deaths.
  • ICD-10 chapter groups ‘Certain conditions originating in the perinatal period (P00–P96)’ and ‘Congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities (Q00–Q99) accounted for 52% and 22%, respectively, of infant deaths.
  • The most common specified cause of infant death was ‘Disorders related to short gestation and low birthweight (P07)’ (19%).

Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI)

  • There were 42 sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) deaths in 2016, including 23 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths. The SUDI deaths included 22 males and 20 females.
  • For each year from 2012 to 2016 the SUDI rate was significantly lower than in 2000. The SUDI rate in 2016 (0.7 per 1000 live births) was half the rate in 2000 (1.4 per 1000 live births).
  • In the five-year period, 2012–2016, SUDI rates for babies in the Māori and Pacific peoples ethnic groups were significantly higher than the rates for babies in the Asian and European or Other ethnic groups. SUDI rates for babies of mothers aged less than 25 years were significantly higher than for those mothers in all other age groups. The SUDI rate for babies born in the most deprived areas (quintile 5) was significantly higher than the rate for all other deprivation quintiles.
  • During this same period, 2012–2016, SUDI rates for babies born with a low birthweight were 1.2 and 2.0 per 1000 live births (for those with a birthweight between 1000g–1499g and 1500g–2499g respectively). In comparison babies born with a higher birthweight (2500g–4499g) had a SUDI rate of 0.6 per 1000 live births. For babies born at 28–31 and 32–36 weeks’ gestation SUDI rates were 1.3 and 2.0 per 1000 live births respectively, compared to a SUDI rate of 0.6 per 1000 live births for babies born at 37–41 weeks.

Births trend

  • Between 2007 and 2016 the number of births birth decreased by around 7%. The number of births each year can influence the rate of fetal and infant deaths.
  • Over the ten-year period (2007–2016) notable changes in the number of births were for babies born to mothers aged less than 20 years (decreased by around 50%), babies of Asian ethnicity (increased by 70%), babies in the other ethnic groups (decreased by 10–20%),  babies born with a birth weight of 4500g or more (decreased by 22%), babies born with a birthweight of  500g–1499g (decreased by around 18%), and babies born within 31 weeks gestation (decreased by around 16%).

Note: The number of fetal and infant deaths in New Zealand is small and may cause rates to fluctuate markedly from year to year. Rates derived from small numbers should be interpreted with caution.

About the data used in this edition

This dataset is a continuation of the Fetal and Infant Death series. In this edition, 81 fetal deaths that occurred in 2014 were registered to 2014 for the first time. Therefore, numbers of fetal deaths for 2014 will differ from previous editions.

At the time the data was extracted there were 15 infant deaths awaiting coroners' findings. For four of these deaths the Ministry had not yet received any cause of death information; the remaining 11 deaths were provisionally coded (ie, yet to be confirmed). Deaths for which a cause is still to be determined or confirmed will be updated in the next edition of Fetal and Infant deaths as the coroners complete their findings.


In this edition, deaths data was extracted and recalculated for the years 2007–2016 to reflect ongoing updates to data in the New Zealand Mortality Collection (for example, following the release of coroners’ findings). For this reason there may be small changes to some numbers and rates from those presented in previous publications and tables.

We have quality checked the collection, extraction, and reporting of the data presented here. However, errors can occur. Contact the Ministry of Health if you have any concerns regarding any of the data or analyses presented here, at [email protected].

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