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Experts aim to reduce stillbirths and baby brain injuries

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image captionMidwives said it was "vital to learn lessons" from tragic events

A five-year plan to halve the number of stillbirths, newborn deaths and baby brain injuries in the UK has been launched.

About 500 babies a year died or were left severely disabled by labour complications, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said.

Midwives said it was "vital to learn lessons" from tragic events.

Child health experts said smoking while pregnant increased the risk of birth complications.

The UK has about 4,000 stillbirths per year and roughly 40,000 miscarriages that result in hospital admission.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) initiative - called Each Baby Counts - aims to collect and analyse data from hospitals to try to improve future care.

"Stillbirth, neonatal death or the birth of a baby at full term but with brain injuries are life-changing and tragic events which often affect women and their families for many years," said Prof Alan Cameron, RCOG vice-president for clinical quality.

"Our task is to collect data from all UK units to identify avoidable factors in these cases," he said.

"We will monitor where these incidents occur and why. Sharing of these sensitive data will provide us all with a unique opportunity to improve the care we provide and save lives," Prof Cameron added.

Babies starved of oxygen during labour could sustain life-long brain injuries, RCOG said.

Midwives said the initiative "will go a long way towards sparing families the immense grief and stress that stillbirth and poor neonatal health outcomes have on families".

"It is vital that we learn the lessons from each of these tragic events," said Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the Royal College of Midwives.

"We must also ensure that what we learn is shared and any actions implemented across the whole country," she added.

Smoking risks

Child health expert Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that as well as errors made during labour, a number of avoidable deaths were linked to factors during pregnancy.

"Many neonatal deaths are strongly influenced by pre-term delivery and low birth weight - factors commonly linked to lifestyle choices that mothers make during pregnancy, often because they are not aware of the risks," she said.

"In fact smoking in pregnancy is one of the most important preventable factors associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes. It attributes to around 2,200 preterm births, 5,000 miscarriages and 300 perinatal deaths in the UK every year," she added.

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