Perinatal refers to whatever that occurs in the five months before and in the month after childbirth.
Nearly twice as many women in NSW die due to factors surrounding pregnancy or childbirth as previously thought, adding weight to calls for better reporting of pregnancy-related mortality.
The results are a further reminder of the significance of perinatal mental health, with suicide the leading cause of indirect death, followed by cardiac disorders. Deaths from accidents and violence are also significant, researchers at the University of New South Wales said.
The researchers identified 173 maternal deaths in NSW over the eight years from 1994 to 2001.
The figures were much higher than those previously reported because the researchers also took into account late maternal deaths which occurred between six weeks and a year after the pregnancy ended.
Routine reporting take into account only deaths that occur within 42 days of the pregnancy ending.
Late maternal deaths due to suicide and homicide were also found to be significantly underreported because they occur after the woman has left the hospital setting, wrote the lead author, Associate Professor Elizabeth Sullivan from the National Perinatal Statistics Unit at UNSW.
Writing in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Professor Sullivan and her colleagues said their research supports the argument for the development of a perinatal mental health national action plan.
Although deaths are very rare in this country, every maternal death is an absolute tragedy, said Professor Sullivan.
There is no routine reporting of late maternal deaths in Australia. This NSW study shows that data linkage is a viable method for characterising the extent of late maternal deaths in Australia, she said. "This is a platform for future research at a national level."