Fewer Australian babies are being stillborn in later pregnancy, but more are being lost earlier in the term, new research shows.

Fewer Australian babies are being stillborn in later pregnancy.

However, more are being lost in the earlier weeks, according to the first national report on stillbirths, which was released on Friday.

The stillbirth rate ranged from 6.4 to 7.8 per 1000 births for the period 1991 to 2009, “with no discernable trend”, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report.

In Australia, a stillbirth is defined as the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

For every 135 Australian births one baby was stillborn, the report says.

In 2009, 2341 babies were stillborn.

The most common cause of death was birth defects, accounting for 21 per cent of all stillbirths.

The report says the risk of stillbirth occurring between 28 and 41 weeks gestation dropped between 1991 and 2009.

But there was an increase in the risk of stillbirths from 20 to 27 weeks.

AIHW spokesperson David Ellwood, a professor at Griffith University in Queensland, said the reduced risk of stillbirth in pregnancies after 28 weeks of gestation was an important finding.

“This is an age beyond which we would expect good outcomes for babies born alive,” he said.

The report also shows fewer babies were lost to older mothers, but teenage mothers experienced more stillbirths.

Stillbirth rates in mothers aged 40 or older fell from 12.7 to 10.6 per 1000 births.

In teenage mothers, the rate increased from 9.5 to 15 per 1000 births between 1991 to 2009.

“The drop in stillbirth rates over time for older women may suggest that some interventions introduced in recent years to the care of pregnant women in later pregnancy have been of benefit, and that further reductions in stillbirth may be possible, but further investigations are needed to determine best practice,” Prof Ellwood said.