13 Jun 2012

Rise in potentially avoidable baby deaths

6:51 pm on 13 June 2012

The number of potentially avoidable deaths of unborn and new-born babies has increased.

A report by the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee released on Wednesday shows 124 foetal and early neo-natal deaths in 2010 could have been prevented. In 2009, there were 98 deaths.

The committee says mothers at risk tended to be teenage girls, women over 40, and those of Maori and Pacific descent.

They also tended to have bleeding during pregnancy, high blood pressure and conditions such as diabetes.

The report says suicide remains the most frequent cause of maternal death, with three such deaths in 2010 - the same as for the previous year.

It recommends that pregnant women and new mothers with a history of mental illness be referred for psychiatric assessment, even if they are well.

The report also renews calls to establish a mother and baby unit to help lower maternal suicide rates.

In 2011, the committee called for the unit to be set up. Chairperson Cynthia Farquhar says such a facility is still probably a year away - but if built, it will be life-saving.