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BACKGROUND: Women continue to die unnecessarily during or after pregnancy in the developed world. The aim of this analysis was to compare women with severe maternal morbidities who survived with those who died, to quantify the risk associated with identified factors to inform policy and practice to improve survival. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We conducted a national cohort analysis using data from two sources obtained between 2003 and 2009: the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries maternal deaths database and the United Kingdom Obstetric Surveillance System database. Included women had eclampsia, antenatal pulmonary embolism, amniotic fluid embolism, acute fatty liver of pregnancy or antenatal stroke. These conditions were chosen as major causes of maternal mortality and morbidity about which data were available through both sources, and include 42% of direct maternal deaths over the study period. Rates, risk ratios, crude and adjusted odd ratios were used to investigate risks factors for maternal death. Multiple imputation and sensitivity analysis were used to handle missing data. We identified 476 women who survived and 100 women who died. Maternal death was associated with older age (35+ years aOR 2.36, 95%CI 1.22-4.56), black ethnicity (aOR 2.38, 95%CI 1.15-4.92), and unemployed, routine or manual occupation (aOR 2.19, 95%CI 1.03-4.68). An association was also observed with obesity (BMI≥30 kg/m(2) aOR 2.73, 95%CI 1.15-6.46). CONCLUSIONS: Ongoing high quality national surveillance programmes have an important place in addressing challenges in maternal health and care. There is a place for action to reverse the rising trends in maternal age at childbirth, and to reduce the burden of obesity in pregnancy, as well as ongoing recognition of the impact of older maternal age on the risks of pregnancy. Development and evaluation of services to mitigate the risk of dying associated with black ethnicity and lower socioeconomic status is also essential.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Cause of Death, Cohort Studies, Female, Humans, Maternal Age, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Complications, Risk Factors