The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health found that, of two million women who gave birth in the UK between 2003 and 2005, 295 died from pregnancy-related conditions.
The CEMACH report, published last week, showed the number of maternal deaths had increased annually from about 13 deaths per 100,000 to nearly 14 in this period.
Rising numbers of older and obese women, as well as migrant women with poorer health, have contributed to this increase, the report said. It stated that 52% of women who died had a BMI of 25 or more. Of these 15% were considered morbidly obese.
‘The fact that obesity appears to carry a greater risk of death will probably come as no surprise to those who have viewed the increasing weight of the maternity population with concern,’ the report stated.
‘However, the magnitude of this risk means that obesity represents one of the greatest and growing overall threats to the childbearing population of the UK,’ it added.
Gwyneth Lewis, director of CEMACH’s inquiry, said: ‘The fact that more than half of the women who died were obese or overweight shows that strong public health messages are needed both before and during pregnancy.’
The report identified the main cause of maternal death as thromboembolism.
Deaths caused by sepsis and amniotic fluid embolism are on the rise but there is a decline in deaths from haemorrhage, uterine trauma and suicide.
Mervi Jokinen, practice and standards development adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, said good communication between health professionals was important in identifying risk factors.
‘The report pointed out that in many of the cases where there has been less communication, existing medical conditions are not recognised,’ she said.
‘Working together is crucial.’