Deaths of mothers and babies avoidable
More than a third of mothers who died during child birth in 2012 could have been saved, a report indicates.
The national report from the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) investigated mothers whose deaths were related to pregnancy or child birth and the deaths of babies aged from 20 weeks gestation up to 28 days old in New Zealand since 2007.
The results show a staggering number of deaths could have been prevented.
In 2012 New Zealand recorded 669 deaths of infants aged between 20 weeks gestation and four weeks old, with a third attributed to congenital abnormalities. Twenty per cent of these, the report said, "potentially" could have been avoided.
In 2012, ten New Zealand mothers died from pregnancy or child birth-related causes and a further five were labelled as "coincidental deaths".
Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee chair Dr Sue Belgrave said most of the information was from families that had faced a distressing loss.
". . . They have told their stories in hope that other families and whanau will be spared the distress in the future."
Access to both antenatal care and postnatal care were identified as a barrier for many women, which then contributed to complications causing infant or maternal death.
Belgrave said the findings show a clear link between stillbirths and obesity.
"Stillbirth is often unexplained, but where we do know how to reduce risk we need to make sure . . . women have the opportunity [to do so] . . ."
Belgrave said there was also a reduction in the number of unexplained stillbirths.
"The reduction in unexplained stillbirths means more parents were being given a reason as to why their baby died, which helps with the grieving process and planning for future pregnancies."
Women in low socioeconomic areas had 2.5 times the chance of dying during child birth, while Maori and Pacific mothers were three times more likely.
"Maori, Pacific and Indian mothers were significantly more likely to lose a baby than New Zealand European mothers," the report said.
It also said that women who smoke while pregnant were at increased risk of having a stillbirth or losing their baby before it was 28 days old.
The PMMRC made recommendations to New Zealand's Health and Quality Commission about improving women's access to antenatal care.
"Women with serious pre-existing medical conditions require a multidisciplinary management plan for their pregnancy, birth and postpartum period," the report said.
They also suggested more education programmes highlighting the associated risk of obesity and pregnancy.
Health Quality and Safety Commission chair Professor Alan Merry welcomed the report.
"There is clearly still work to be done to improve safety of our maternity services."
The report also recommended all district health boards undertake local review of cases of neonatal encephalopathy - a condition which affects newborn's brain functionality because of a lack of oxygen - to identify areas for improvement in care.