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Maternal death rates in the United Kingdom have dropped, new figures from Oxford University demonstrate. The report shows that 357 UK women passed away during pregnancy and up to six weeks postpartum between 2010 and 2012.

 Thanks to Nate Grigg/Flickr Creative Commons. Earlier data shows that 11 out of 10,000 pregnant mothers and postpartum women died between the years of 2006 and 2008. The new figures represent a drop from those figures, to 10 out of every 100,000 women. That figure may not seem very high, but the researchers also suggest much more can be done to prevent deaths. The statistics happen to be UK-specific, but the lessons that can be learned from the report also apply to many other countries including, perhaps, yours. Childbirth has never been as safe as it is today across much of the developed world, but new threats are also emerging and old threats still need to be dealt with in a better way. So, what are the UK's pregnant women and brand new mothers dying of now, at the beginning of the 21st century?

Causes of maternal death in the UK today

Approximately a quarter of the 357 deaths were caused by sepsis. This is in part due to the fact that a woman's immune system is weaker while she's expecting and right after she gives birth. The uterus is a likely site of infection during this time, and such infections can spread through the body much more easily than they would if the woman wasn't pregnant. While you may have suspected sepsis as a likely cause of death, the other culprit is much more shocking: influenza. One in 11 maternal deaths were caused by the flu, the report shows. Fewer women are dying directly from pregnancy complications, and that is good news. Deaths from thrombosis, haemorrhage and preeclampsia have all gone down. (Click the link to find out if you are at risk of developing preeclampsia.)

What can be done?

Professor Marian Knight from Oxford University emphasized the fact that maternal deaths are, in fact, a very rare occurrence in the UK. That piece of information is reassuring, but it did not cause complacency for the team, which has made some suggestions for improvement. Half of the flu deaths could have been prevented, they noted. You can get a more powerful reminder to get the flu shot if you're currently pregnant or trying to conceive, can you? The flu shot is very safe for almost everyone, including pregnant women. The flu may not be seen as much of a threat, but it is actually among the more common causes of deaths among pregnant women and new mothers.

When you think of dying during pregnancy, you may immediately think of rare conditions like placenta previa, but that's just not the way it is. A flu shot can save your life. (See also: Should you get a flu shot in pregnancy?) Three quarters of the women who died were shown to have pre-existing medical or mental health conditions. The suggestion was that women with pre-existing, non-pregnancy related conditions are given access to "joint specialist and maternity care". Prenatal care is of huge importance, but so is looking after other aspects of a pregnant woman's health and wellbeing. When it comes to sepsis, it's essential that the symptoms are recognized as early on as possible so adequate treatment can be started right away, reducing deaths.

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