THE RATE of stillbirths in England and Wales has hit a record low, new figures reveal.

A total of 2,873 babies were stillborn in 2017 - a rate of 4.2 per 1,000 total births, the lowest on record.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the stillbirth rate has fallen by nearly a fifth, or 19.2%, since 2007.

Older mothers aged 40 and over have the highest stillbirth rate followed by mothers aged under 20.

In 2017, the Government announced an ambition to halve the rate of stillbirths in England by 2025, requiring it to drop to 2.6 per 1,000 total births.

ONS statistician Kanak Ghosh, from the vital statistics outputs branch, said: "The stillbirth rate varies across England and Wales, and in 2017 it was significantly higher in the most deprived areas of England compared with the least deprived areas.

"A similar trend was not seen in Wales, which may be due to the low number of stillbirths taking place there."

In England, the stillbirth rate in the most deprived areas was 5.5 per 1,000 total births, compared with 3.0 per 1,000 total births in the least deprived areas.

Regionally, the highest rate of stillbirth in 2017 was recorded in London (4.8), while the lowest was seen in south-west England (3.4).

According to the NHS, a stillbirth is when a baby is born dead after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy.

If the baby dies before 24 completed weeks, it is known as a miscarriage or late foetal loss.

Factors contributing to an increased risk of stillbirth include having a multiple birth, foetal growth restriction, mothers aged over 35, maternal obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs while pregnant and mothers with a pre-existing health condition, such as epilepsy.

There were a total of 679,106 live births in England and Wales in 2017, the lowest number since 2006.

Of these, 51.3% were boys and 48.7% were girls.

The average age of first-time mothers was 28.8 years old, with the average age of all fathers being 33.4 years old.

A total of 10,462 women gave birth to twins, 154 had triplets and five had quadruplets and above.

The day that saw the most births in 2017 was September 25, when 2,135 babies arrived.

In 2016, it was September 22 when 2,202 babies were born.

Overall, September 26 is the most popular day to be born in England and Wales, with an average of 1,974 babies born on that date between 1995 and 2017.

The least popular date of birth over this period was Boxing Day, followed by Christmas Day, with, on average, 1,357 and 1,425 live births respectively.

ONS figures also revealed that Knowsley in Merseyside had the highest rate (74.4%) of live births outside marriage or civil partnership in 2017.

This was closely followed by Blackpool (74.3%) and Merthyr Tydfil in Wales (74.1%).

The area with the lowest number of babies born outside marriage or a civil partnership was Harrow (19.6%), followed by the City of London (23.0%) and St Albans (26.3%).