• Cause of death;
  • classification;
  • inter-rater agreement;
  • mechanism of death;
  • perinatal mortality

Objective  To introduce the pathophysiological Tulip classification system for underlying cause and mechanism of perinatal mortality based on clinical and pathological findings for the purpose of counselling and prevention.

Design  Descriptive.

Setting  Tertiary referral teaching hospital.

Population  Perinatally related deaths.

Methods  A classification consisting of groups of cause and mechanism of death was drawn up by a panel through the causal analysis of the events related to death. Individual classification of cause and mechanism was performed by assessors. Panel discussions were held for cases without consensus.

Main outcome measures  Inter-rater agreement for cause and mechanism of death.

Results  The classification consists of six main causes with subclassifications: (1) congenital anomaly (chromosomal, syndrome and single- or multiple-organ system), (2) placenta (placental bed, placental pathology, umbilical cord complication and not otherwise specified [NOS]), (3) prematurity (preterm prelabour rupture of membranes, preterm labour, cervical dysfunction, iatrogenous and NOS), (4) infection (transplacental, ascending, neonatal and NOS), (5) other (fetal hydrops of unknown origin, maternal disease, trauma and out of the ordinary) and (6) unknown. Overall kappa coefficient for agreement for cause was 0.81 (95% CI 0.80–0.83). Six mechanisms were drawn up: cardio/circulatory insufficiency, multi-organ failure, respiratory insufficiency, cerebral insufficiency, placental insufficiency and unknown. Overall kappa for mechanism was 0.72 (95% CI 0.70–0.74).

Conclusions  Classifying perinatal mortality to compare performance over time and between centres is useful and necessary. Interpretation of classifications demands consistency. The Tulip classification allows unambiguous classification of underlying cause and mechanism of perinatal mortality, gives a good inter-rater agreement, with a low percentage of unknown causes, and is easily applicable in a team of clinicians when guidelines are followed.