Maternal deaths are rare in Australia. But healthy women do still die during pregnancy and following birth. This report aims to identify trends in maternal mortality and develop an evidence base for maternal deaths to inform maternity services policy and practice.

In the triennium 2015–2017:

  • 915,610 women gave birth in Australia
  • 59 deaths were classified as directly or indirectly related to pregnancy
  • the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) was 6.4 deaths per 100,000 women giving birth, which is the second lowest MMR reported in any triennium in Australia
  • 12 deaths were classified as coincidental to pregnancy
  • 1 death was still awaiting classification at time of publication.

The most common causes of Australian maternal deaths during 2015–2017 were suicide, cardiovascular disease, and sepsis.

The MMR continues to be higher among women who:

  • identified as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • were aged 35 and over
  • had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more
  • had given birth 4 or more times
  • smoked in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Caution should be used when interpreting these data, due to the small number of maternal deaths in Australia, and even smaller numbers when these deaths are broken down by characteristics.

State and territory maternal mortality committees reviewed the maternal deaths for 2015–2017, and, in 26 cases, identified factors that might have contributed to the outcome. The most frequent contributory factors related to the woman, or her family, or her social situation, and to professional care issues.

The Maternal deaths in Australia series now documents 53 years of continuous maternal mortality audit in Australia.