Maternal mortality or maternal death is when a woman dies from anything having to do with pregnancy. It can happen while a woman is pregnant, during labor and delivery.
In developing countries, there are a number of reasons women die in childbirth, which are rooted in poverty, inequality and sexism. The majority of women die in poorer, rural areas, where healthcare services are often inadequate or inaccessible, and where there is a severe shortage of trained medical staff.
Generally, the leading causes of maternal mortality are:
Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) is excessive bleeding and loss of blood after childbirth. A skilled health care provider can stop the bleeding. But, if a healthcare provider with the proper knowledge and skills is not available, a mother can die from losing too much blood.
High Blood Pressure and Eclampsia
Prenatal care and testing usually pick up issues such as high blood pressure and protein in the urine. With good medical care, doctors can treat and monitor pre-eclampsia. But, without care, it can become dangerous and lead to death.
Women can get an infection from unsafe abortion, an unsanitary delivery, or a very long labor. A lack of understanding and information on personal hygiene and how to care for the body after childbirth can also put a mom at risk for infection.
According to a report on abortion surveillance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Deaths of women associated with complications from abortion for 2015 are being assessed as part of CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System. In 2014, the most recent year for which data were available, six women were identified to have died as a result of complications from legal induced abortion.” However, in other areas of the world, unsafe abortion is a leading cause of death among women who have an unintended pregnancy. According to a paper published in 2009, unsafe abortions are why approximately 68,000 women die each year.
A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blood clot in the lungs. PE can develop after delivery, and the risk is higher with a cesarean section. About 3 percent of maternal deaths are due to pulmonary embolism.
Other Direct Complications
Approximately 10 percent of women die from other direct pregnancy-related issues. Conditions such as placenta previa, uterine rupture, and ectopic pregnancy can lead to complications and death without proper care and treatment.
Other Indirect Causes
An indirect cause of death in pregnant women is from a condition that is not directly related to the pregnancy but develops or gets worse during pregnancy. Pregnancy can affect health problems such as HIV and heart disease. Conditions such as diabetes and anemia can develop or get worse. These issues account for approximately 28 percent of maternal deaths.
Prevention of maternal deaths
Most maternal deaths are preventable, as the health-care solutions to prevent or manage complications are well known. All women need access to high quality care in pregnancy, and during and after childbirth. Maternal health and newborn health are closely linked. It is particularly important that all births are attended by skilled health professionals, as timely management and treatment can make the difference between life and death for the mother as well as for the baby.
- Severe bleeding after birth can kill a healthy woman within hours if she is unattended. Injecting oxytocics immediately after childbirth effectively reduces the risk of bleeding.
- Infection after childbirth can be eliminated if good hygiene is practiced and if early signs of infection are recognized and treated in a timely manner.
- Pre-eclampsia should be detected and appropriately managed before the onset of convulsions (eclampsia) and other life-threatening complications. Administering drugs such as magnesium sulfate for pre-eclampsia can lower a woman’s risk of developing eclampsia.
To improve maternal health, barriers that limit access to quality maternal health services must be identified and addressed at both health system and societal levels. Getting early treatment for conditions that can cause complications during and after pregnancy may help prevent death.