CDC Activities

Key points

CDC works to learn more about who had a stillbirth and explores whether we know why. CDC does this by tracking how often stillbirth occurs and researching what causes stillbirth.

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National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) is working to better understand factors impacting the risk for stillbirth. NCBDDD has funded three Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention in Arkansas, Massachusetts, and New York for stillbirth research activities. These programs are expanding their birth defects tracking systems to find all pregnancies that end in stillbirth. Specifically, these programs are

  • Looking at new ways to find and study stillbirths
  • Interviewing mothers who lost their baby during pregnancy
  • Finding common experiences and exposures among those mothers
  • Sharing this information with the medical community and the public

NCBDDD is also funding four jurisdictions (Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, and southern Nevada) to start population-based surveillance systems to examine regional stillbirth prevalence. This work will focus on racial and ethnic differences, geographical differences, and underlying causes. This will provide more precise prevalence estimates and data for services and policy planning.

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Healthcare research can help provide data to inform prevention efforts.

National Center for Health Statistics

Data about stillbirth are collected across the country on fetal death reports (reports for fetuses that do not survive pregnancy). Healthcare providers complete these reports and submit them to their state vital records office. States then share the data with the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), located within the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Using these reports, the NCHS collects annual national statistical data on fetal deaths at 20 or more weeks of pregnancy (stillbirths). This data includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 5 U.S. territories. This process provides estimates of the number of stillbirths that occur in the United States.

Recent activities have focused on improving the quality and timeliness of stillbirth data. In 2023, a joint workgroup between NCHS, state vital statistics representatives, and the National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems was formed. This workgroup aims to address challenges and establish best practices for fetal death vital statistics data. The workgroup will identify approaches to improve accurate and timely reporting of fetal deaths. They also will provide recommendations for new improvement efforts and will help with implementation of these efforts.

Also, beginning with the 2020 data year, NCHS began publishing reports based on provisional data, which represent all records received by a given date and more than 98% of all records for the year. These reports allow for a more timely release of fetal death data.

Division of Reproductive Health

CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), Division of Reproductive Health (DRH), is also working to better understand stillbirth. DRH funds states and jurisdictions to collect population-based data on maternal experiences before, during, and shortly after pregnancy. The Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) data can identify groups of women and infants at high risk for health problems. PRAMS data is also used to measure progress toward goals to improve the health of mothers and infants.

CDC funded a pilot in Utah in 2016 and 2021 to modify PRAMS to collect information from women who experienced stillbirth. Utah's Study of the Associated Risks of Stillbirth (SOARS) provides essential data to better understand stillbirth. This data includes factors such as healthcare services before and during pregnancy, and after stillbirth. This project will inform future stillbirth prevention.

DRH is collaborating with the CDC Foundation and sites across the United States to learn from those who've experienced stillbirth.

DRH also provides direct technical assistance to states through its Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Program (MCHEP). This program assigns epidemiologists to state, local, and tribal agencies to support research and activities that improve maternal and child health.

CDC's Hear Her® Campaign supports broader efforts to prevent pregnancy-related deaths by sharing potentially life-saving messages about urgent maternal warning signs. The campaign educates on warning signs such as the baby's movement stopping or slowing during pregnancy, which could indicate fetal distress.

Future steps

CDC has recently started a number of new stillbirth initiatives. Getting the results of these activities takes some time. In the meantime, CDC will work to increase awareness about stillbirth.

CDC is working with its clinical partners to provide additional training opportunities for providers related to stillbirth care. Specific areas include training on use of stillbirth evaluation guidelines, providing access to grief counseling, and discussing stillborn evaluation with families.