The headlines have screamed at us: women in the UK are more likely to die when giving birth than those in Albania and Poland.
These stories terrify those of child-rearing age who are planning to have children or are already pregnant.
While the statistics, calculated by the well-respected USA-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and published online by the Lancet medical journal, cannot be ignored, we have to look at the reasons why.
According to HME, there were 8.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in the UK 2008 – down just 0.2 per cent from 1990. But the UK is ranked 23rd in a global ranking of 121 countries. Italy has been shown to be the safest country in which to give birth with 3.9 deaths per 100,000 – down from 7.4 in 1990.
Obesity and a rise in older mothers have been cited as two of the main reasons for the mortality rate in the UK. A rise in the number of Caesarean sections has also been a factor, as is immigration – women whose English is minimal or non-existent might miss important appointments.
Statistically, having a baby in the UK is still very safe and Dr Maggie Blott, of the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologists, has been keen to emphasise that the rate has more to do with demographics because deaths from conditions such as pre-eclampsia has come down.
Older women are over-represented in the statistics – and they are more likely to have high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack.
So, how worried should we be by the HME figures? Every death is one too many, of course, but we cannot stop women from choosing later life to have their babies.
There are many reasons as to why women are choosing to have their children later in life and while the statistics show that maternal death is highly unlikely, every risk has to be considered carefully.
The question is: do women really understand the inherent dangers associated with carrying a baby in the womb if we are older and/or obese?
We all want to choose the right time for having our children, but we have to understand what we put our bodies through when we are pregnant. The strain on our bodies is immense as it changes to accommodate the foetus – being overweight, or worse, obese, heaps on the pressure.
Medical improvements and interventions can surely do only so much to minimise the risk of problems during pregnancy. If we are to have children, we should be healthy and fit. For our babies’ and our own sakes.
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