Maternity deaths at highest levels in two decades, according to study

They're at levels we haven't seen since 2003-05 according to the research, with black women and women from deprived areas among those most at risk

pregnant woman in white dress holding stomach
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A recent study has indicated that maternity deaths have risen to their highest levels in two decades, with black women and women from deprived areas most at risk.

In recent years, there’s been a lot more discussion around maternal health and wellbeing, from speaking out about maternal mental health to knowing what to do when you find out you’re pregnant.

But between January 2020 and December 2022, there were 13.41 deaths per 100,000 women in the UK either during pregnancy or in the first six weeks after pregnancy had ended, the highest levels since 2003-05.

Even if deaths from Covid-19 are excluded, the figure of 11.54 deaths per 100,000 women is higher than the figure from 2017 to 2019, which was 8.79 deaths per 100,000.

Black women are three times more likely than white women to die, though the maternal death rate among black women has fallen slightly since the previous survey. Meanwhile, Asian women are twice as likely to die as white women. 

However, there are socio-economic factors too. The study found that women living in the most deprived areas of the UK are more than twice as likely to die as women from the least deprived areas.

Among the leading causes of death across 2020-22 were thrombosis and thromboembolism – blood clots in the veins – Covid-19, heart disease, and mental health-related illnesses.

The data comes from MBRRACE-UK, which monitors maternal deaths, as well as stillbirths and infant deaths, and their causes for the national Maternal, Newborn and Infant clinical Outcome Review Programme (MNI-CORP), and the research was led by the Oxford Population Health’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (OPHNPEU).

Professor Marian Knight, director of OPHNPEU and the MBRRACE-UK maternal reporting lead, explained that there are “clear examples of maternity systems under pressure,” and said, “Ensuring pre-pregnancy health, including tackling conditions such as being overweight or obese, as well as critical actions to work towards more inclusive and personalised care, need to be prioritised as a matter of urgency.”

In other health news, here are 15 reasons you might be feeling tired all the time, and this is how to cool down while pregnant

Freelance writer

Adam is an experienced writer who regularly covers the royal family and celebrity news for the likes of Goodto, The List, The Metro, and Entertainment Daily. However, you can also find Adam covering relationships, mental health, pet care, and contributing to titles such as Creative Bloq.