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CDC Reports Show Decrease in Fetal Mortality Rates After Staying Constant During COVID

The rate of infants dying stillborn in the womb fell by 5% last year after holding steady during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new federal data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that 5.45 infants died in the womb for every 1,000 live births and fetal deaths in 2022, down from 5.73 in 2021. The rate was 5.74 in 2020.

The provisional count, which did not include fetal deaths from abortions, comes after the CDC said rates remained “essentially unchanged” from 2019 to 2021. The federal agency tracks fetal mortality starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“With minor fluctuations, the total fetal mortality rate has generally declined over time,” statistician Elizabeth Gregory, a co-author of the report, told The Washington Times. “We will continue to monitor the rate going forward to see what happens.”

The CDC found that the rate at 20-27 weeks of pregnancy fell by 6% from 2.95 deaths for every 1,000 births and fetal deaths in 2021 to 2.78 last year. In 2020, the early fetal death rate was 2.97.

Late fetal deaths after 28 weeks of pregnancy fell by 4% from 2.8 per 1,000 live births and deaths in 2021 to 2.69 last year. That rate was 2.78 in 2020.

From 2021 to 2022, the report found the fetal mortality rate declined by 8% for Whites, 7% for Asians, 5% for Hispanics and 3% for American Indians and Alaskan natives. It grew by 6% for native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, and by 1% for Blacks, who have traditionally experienced increases.

The CDC reported a “significant decrease” in fetal mortality in seven states: California, Utah, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida and Alabama.

The agency counted 20,091 fetal deaths nationwide in 2022, down from 21,105 in 2021 and 20,854 in 2020.

While the CDC report did not explain the downward trend in fetal deaths, some experts interviewed by The Times said COVID and infant mortality trends could have played a role.

Alison Gemmill, a perinatal epidemiologist who teaches at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said COVID spread and a recent increase in infant mortality could explain the drop in fetal mortality.

She pointed to a separate report the CDC released last week that found the rate of infants dying before their first birthday hit 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2022, up roughly 3% from 5.44 in 2021.

“Potentially, those gestations that would have ended in fetal death in 2021 were born alive in 2022 and then died shortly after,” Ms. Gemmill said in an interview. “It’s possible that immunity has increased in the population as a result of greater COVID infection and vaccination numbers, causing fewer maternal and fetal complications.”

According to health experts, maternal complications have traditionally been the main cause of fetal death. They include spontaneous labor, an umbilical cord wrapped around the fetus’s neck, or problems with the placenta and the health conditions of the mother.

Ms. Gemmill said she disagreed with some health experts who have speculated that abortion restrictions could have forced some mothers to carry more unhealthy pregnancies to term, shifting deaths from the womb to after birth.

“This data is still 2022 and Dobbs didn’t take place until June 2022, so there isn’t enough time for abortion restrictions to have affected pregnancies in 2022,” she said. “Gestation takes nine months.”

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