WOMEN born in India and Sri Lanka have more than double the risk of a stillbirth in late pregnancy, new research has shown, prompting calls for them to be more closely monitored and, in some cases, induced earlier to give birth to healthy babies.
Researchers from Monash Medical Centre analysed data from more than 44,000 births between 2001 and 2011 after an intern observed that a high number of Indian women seemed to have stillbirths.
They found that women born in south Asia - including India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh - who gave birth in Australia, were 2.4 times more likely than those born in Australia to have a stillbirth between 37 and 42 weeks.
Stillbirth rates among women born in other parts of Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, China and Japan, were similar to those of Australian-born women, according to the research published in The Medical Journal of Australia.
The rate of late-pregnancy stillbirth among Australian-born women was 1.48 for every 1000 births, compared with 1.06 for women born in south-east or east Asia.
But for those born in south Asia, stillbirth rates were 3.55 for every 1000 births, even after researchers accounted for other risk factors including age, weight and smoking status.
Southern Health director of obstetrics Euan Wallace said the study found that south Asian women were more likely to have smaller babies - a known risk factor for stillbirth - but that did not explain the elevated risk. He said reasons for the higher stillbirth rate in south Asian women were unknown, but the finding was significant given increased migration over the past decade. South Indian women comprise about 15 per cent of women who give birth at Southern Health - which includes the Monash Medical Centre and Dandenong and Casey hospitals.
Professor Wallace said if the finding was replicated in a larger study, doctors might need to consider increasing foetal monitoring in late-stage pregnancy for south Asian women and inducing labour early.
''We are so used to providing universal care for everyone, regardless of colour or creed, and that's a fundamental of our country, but there may be grounds to temper that in this instance and provide different care to these women,'' he said.
''Losing a baby from 37 weeks onwards is particularly awful.
''Something we get asked all the time by these women is, 'if I'd had my baby yesterday, would she or he still be alive today?' That's just an awful question, and an awful place for them to go.''
About 2200 babies are stillborn each year in Australia, in what Stillbirth Foundation director Emma McLeod said was a significant public health issue.