Global estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) fell from 385 per 100,000 women giving birth in 1990 to 216 per 100,000 women giving birth in 2015. This equates to around 300,000 women estimated to have died world-wide in association with pregnancy in 2015. In 2015 the MMR for developed countries, which includes Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, was 12 per 100,000 women giving birth, which is lower than in regions such as Oceania (MMR estimate 187 per 100,000 women giving birth), South-East Asia (110 per 100,000 women giving birth) and Sub-Saharan Africa (546 per 100,000 women giving birth).

In the triennium 2012 to 2014, 920,095 women gave birth in Australia. The deaths of 73 women during pregnancy or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy are reviewed in this report.

Following review by the various State and Territory Maternal Mortality Committees, 61 deaths were classified as directly or indirectly related to pregnancy and 2 were considered related to the pregnancy or its management, but could not be further classified as direct or indirect. This led to a maternal mortality ratio of 6.8 deaths per 100,000 women giving birth. The remaining 10 deaths were classified as incidental to the pregnancy.

The most common causes of the Australian maternal deaths from 2012–2014 were non-obstetric haemorrhage, cardiovascular conditions and thromboembolism. Maternal suicide was less prominent in this period than in the 2006–2010 and 2008–2012 reports (AIHW: Johnson et al. 2014b; AIHW: Humphrey et al. 2015).

There continues to be a higher incidence of maternal death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women: the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander MMR is 3 times that for other Australian women.

Women aged under 35 years in their second to fourth pregnancies who had an unassisted vaginal birth were the least likely to die in association with pregnancy and childbirth.

Some data provided to the AIHW about maternal deaths were incomplete, mostly due to restrictions on data availability by state or territory health privacy legislation, as well as incomplete reporting to and by some jurisdictional health departments. The AIHW is working with jurisdictions to improve the quality and timeliness of maternal deaths data in the future.