Maternity care

28th March 2015

Despite a drop in the numbers of UK women dying in or around childbirth, high level of deaths among women with medical conditions such as heart disease continues, warns the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM).

Overall the number of deaths has dropped by ten per cent from 11 in every 100,000 in 2006-2008 to 10 in every 100,000 in 2010-12, says a report called Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care led by Oxford University's National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit.

One of the main reasons for maternal deaths is undiagnosed heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy, including pregnancy related cardiomyopathy (or peripartum cardiomyopathy) that can come on late in pregnancy or in the early weeks after birth.

RCM's director for midwifery Louise Silverton said: “We welcome this long-awaited report and the drop in maternal deaths due to pregnancy complications, such as eclampsia, blood loss or blood clots. However, we remain concerned about the high level of deaths among women with pre-existing medical conditions, such as a cardiac and neurological conditions.

The NHS needs to do more to prioritise these women's care in its already overstretched maternity services. The RCM has been campaigning and lobbying to improve postnatal care, especially during the vital first 24 hours after giving birth."

Saving Lives

The college says it is also working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to improve maternity services, especially the care of women with pre-existing medical conditions and those who develop complications.”

The Saving Lives report found among the 321 women who died in childbirth had conditions caused or exacerbated by pregnancy.

  • Nearly three quarters of the women who died suffered from pre-existing conditions, the report revealed.
  • And two thirds of the deaths were a result of medical and mental health problems in pregnancy, rather than direct complications such as bleeding.
  • Oxford professor Marian Knight said although having a baby was becoming less and less deadly, better antenatal care and simple precautions were needed.

However, doctors say mothers-to-be need to be pushier about seeing more senior doctors and midwives if they are unhappy with the quality of their care.

More midwives and maternity support workers is needed to deal with the increasing complexity of pregnancy and better teamwork with doctors to provide seamless maternity care. Midwives need to have time to listen to and protect women in their care.

The NHS needs to do more to prioritise these women's care in its already overstretched maternity services. Through our Pressure Points campaign, the RCM has been campaigning and lobbying to improve postnatal care, especially during the vital first 24 hours after giving birth.

The RCM will continue to work in partnership with the RCOG to improve maternity services, especially the care of women with pre-existing medical conditions and those who develop complications. This is what all mothers and babies need and deserve.”


We have a medical conference on cardiomyopathy and pregnancy

Find out more about peripartum cardiomyopathy

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