Maternal deaths in Australia 2006-2010 provides a summary of statistics on maternal mortality in Australia to inform safety and quality of maternity care in Australia, and provides good practice guidance from members of the National Maternal Mortality Advisory Committee.

Maternal mortality rates remained low for Australian women

In 2006-2010 in Australia, there were 99 maternal deaths that occurred within 42 days of the end of pregnancy. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) was 6.8 deaths per 100,000 women who gave birth. The MMR for 2003-2005 was 8.4 and 11.1 for 2000-2002. These data should be interpreted with caution due to the rarity of maternal deaths in Australia and the associated volatility of small numbers.

There were 39 maternal deaths directly related to the pregnancy in 2006-2010. Fifty-seven deaths were indirect maternal deaths and due to non-pregnancy-related conditions. Women aged 40 and over, with higher parity, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin, or with Remote or Very remote usual residence were among those at increased risk of maternal death.

Australia's MMR is lower than New Zealand and United Kingdom for comparable years but accurate comparisons are limited due to different maternal mortality review processes, classifications and ascertainment measures.

Maternal mortality rates were higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were almost 3 times as likely to die as non-Indigenous women, with a maternal mortality ratio of 16.4 deaths per 100,000 Indigenous women giving birth. Sepsis and cardiac conditions were the leading causes of maternal death for Indigenous Australians.

Key causes of direct and indirect maternal deaths in Australia in 2006-2010

  • The leading causes of direct maternal deaths were amniotic fluid embolism (9), thromboembolism (8), obstetric haemorrhage (7) and eclampsia (6), and, when combined, accounted for more than three-quarters of all direct maternal deaths.
  • There were 15 deaths due to cardiac disease, the leading cause of indirect maternal death. Preconception counselling and assessment for women with cardiac disease and referral to appropriate multidisciplinary tertiary services is essential.
  • There were 13 deaths due to psychosocial causes, including 9 due to suicide. Universal psychosocial screening is critical in identifying women at risk of psychosocial morbidity in the antenatal period, and clear referral guidelines and the treatment of significant maternal psychiatric morbidity important in preventing maternal deaths.
  • Five non-obstetric haemorrhage deaths resulted from rupture of a splenic artery aneurysm.
  • There were 3 deaths due to ectopic pregnancy in 2006-2010. Seven pregnant women died in motor vehicle accidents. Three women died from epilepsy.