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Postpartum Maternal Mortality and Cesarean Delivery

Deneux-Tharaux, Catherine MD, MPH; Carmona, Elodie MPH1,2; Bouvier-Colle, Marie-Hélene PhD1,2; Bréart, Gérard MD1,2

doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000233154.62729.24
Original Research

OBJECTIVE: A continuous rise in the rate of cesarean delivery has been reported in many countries during the past decades. This trend has prompted the emergence of a controversial debate on the risks and benefits associated with cesarean delivery. Our objective was to provide a valid estimate of the risk of postpartum maternal death directly associated with cesarean as compared with vaginal delivery.

METHODS: A population-based case–control study was designed, with subjects selected from recent nationwide surveys in France. To control for indication bias, maternal deaths due to antenatal morbidities were excluded. For the 5-year study period 1996–2000, 65 cases were included. The control group was selected from the 1998 French National Perinatal Survey and included 10,244 women. Multivariable logistic regression analysis was used to adjust for confounders.

RESULTS: After adjustment for potential confounders, the risk of postpartum death was 3.6 times higher after cesarean than after vaginal delivery (odds ratio 3.64 95% confidence interval 2.15–6.19). Both prepartum and intrapartum cesarean delivery were associated with a significantly increased risk. Cesarean delivery was associated with a significantly increased risk of maternal death from complications of anesthesia, puerperal infection, and venous thromboembolism. The risk of death from postpartum hemorrhage did not differ significantly between vaginal and cesarean deliveries.

CONCLUSION: Cesarean delivery is associated with an increased risk of postpartum maternal death. Knowledge of the causes of death associated with this excess risk informs contemporary discussion about cesarean delivery on request and should inform preventive strategies.


Cesarean delivery is associated with an increased risk of postpartum maternal death compared with vaginal delivery, even when performed before labor.

From the 1Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale (INSERM), Unite Mixte de Recherche S149, Institut Federatif de Recherche 69, Epidemiological Research Unit on Perinatal and Women’s Health, Hopital Tenon, Paris, France; and 2Universite Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris 6, Paris, France.

The National Perinatal Surveys and the Confidential Enquiry on Maternal Deaths were partly funded by the French Ministry of Health.

The authors thank the national coordination of the French National Perinatal Surveys for providing data, and the National Committee of Experts on Maternal Mortality.

Corresponding author: Catherine Deneux-Tharaux, INSERM U149, Maternite Hopital Tenon, 4 rue de la Chine, 75020 Paris, France; e-mail:

© 2006 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists