For as long as we have been gathering the data, more babies have died before reaching their first birthday (so-called infant deaths) than those who died in the second half of pregnancy (aka stillborns). Until now. Researchers with the National Center for Health Statistics yesterday released a report that shows while infant deaths have declined by 11% since 2006, the mortality rate of fetuses between 20 and 40 weeks gestation has stayed put in that time. Which means that in 2013, the number of stillbirths (23,595) actually surpassed the number of infant deaths (23,446) for the first time. Still, the difference is small. "There was less than 1% more fetal deaths," report author Elizabeth Gregory tells the New York Times.
Between 1990 and 2006, the rate of stillbirths actually declined rapidly, falling nearly 20% from 7.49 deaths per 1,000 to 6.05, according to the Child Health USA 2013 report. And while genetic abnormalities, infections, and complications from placental or umbilical cord problems are often implicated, many of these deaths remain a mystery. Race seems to play a role, with black moms twice as likely as whites and Asians to have a stillborn—a disparity that persists even with access to early prenatal care. Stillbirths are also more common in women 35 and older, and most common in teens 15 and younger. And there are slightly more male stillbirths than female ones. (This woman chose to bathe and change her stillborn, whom she delivered at 38 weeks, because "that's all you have.")