More women are dying in pregnancy ‘because mothers are getting fatter and older’, claim researchers 

More women are dying during pregnancy because of soaring rates of obesity and older mothers, research suggests.

Around 9.8 out of 100,000 expectant mothers died while they were carrying their child or in the following six weeks between 2014 and 2016.

In comparison, the rate was just 8.8 out of every 100,000 between 2013 and 2015, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. 

Of all those who died, up to 37 per cent were obese, which puts pregnant women at a greater risk of life-threatening blood clots.

Older women are also more at risk, with those over 40 being three times more likely to die in pregnancy than those in their early 20s, the report found.

Out of every 100,000 expectant mothers in the UK, 9.8 died during pregnancy or within six weeks later from 2014-to-2016. This is compared to 8.8 in every 100,000 in 2013-15 (stock)

Out of every 100,000 expectant mothers in the UK, 9.8 died during pregnancy or within six weeks later from 2014-to-2016. This is compared to 8.8 in every 100,000 in 2013-15 (stock)

The researchers analysed the data of women who died during pregnancy between 2013 and 2016.

Cause of death ranged from blood clots and cancer to suicide and even murder. 

When a pregnant woman dies, it gets reported to public health bodies by the medical staff who cared for her.

The report’s authors then cross-checked the fatalities with data from the Office for National Statistics, as well as assessing the medical records of the deceased.

In total, 202 pregnant women died in the UK between 2013 and 2015. This rose by 23 to 225 from 2014 to 2016.

Age was found to be a major risk factor, with 22 out of every 100,000 pregnant women aged 40 or over dying between 2013 and 2016.

This is compared to 14 per 100,000 among those aged 35 to 39 and seven in those aged 20-to-24.

These fatalities are thought to generally be the result of blood clots, which are the leading cause of death among pregnant women regardless of their age.


As well as age and BMI, a woman’s ethnicity was also found to influence her risk of passing away while expecting. 

Results suggest black women are five times more at risk than white females with 40 out of every 100,000 dying in pregnancy compared to eight.

And Asian woman are almost twice as likely to die while expecting than white females, with 15 out of every 100,000 passing away.  

‘The disparity in mortality rates between women from different ethnic groups is of particular concern,’ lead author Professor Marian Knight said.

‘We know that women from some ethnic groups have more pre-existing conditions, but further research is urgently needed to fully explain why more black and Asian women die and to develop actions to prevent women from dying in the future.’  

As we get older, our blood flow slows and becomes more inclined to clot.   

Obese people are also more at risk of clots, which is thought to be due to excessive amounts of weight causing inflammation that makes blood ‘stickier’.

Storing extra fat around the abdomen may also prevent blood moving as easily, while lazy lifestyles make it ‘sluggish’.

Between 2014 and 2016, 37 per cent of women who died during pregnancy were obese, while 20 per cent were overweight. 

‘Women giving birth are now older, with more risk factors for thromboembolic disease such as obesity,’ the authors wrote.

As well as blood clots, bleeding is another major cause of death during pregnancy. This is more common in those who have previously had a C-section and have a low-lying placenta or a placenta that is stuck to the muscle of their womb. Bleeding can occur if the placenta separates from the uterus. 

The researchers found that 38 per cent of the women who died throughout the investigation due to severe bleeding may have survived if they received better care. 

Perhaps surprising, suicide is the third leading cause of death during pregnancy. 

Although the data may seem alarming, the researchers stress a woman’s risk of dying during pregnancy is low. 

‘Women and their families should be reassured that the number of women dying as a consequence of complications during or after pregnancy remains low in the UK,’ study author Professor Marian Knight said. 

‘However, preventive treatments such as vaccination, or continuing medication in pregnancy, may be essential to keep healthy, particularly for women with known physical and mental health conditions.

‘There are many normal physical and mental changes in pregnancy, but being “body aware” and seeking specialist advice about unusual or persistent symptoms is important.’

The researchers also stress many drugs are safe to start or continue taking during pregnancy and may help guarantee the health of a woman’s baby. 

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