The leading cause of maternal deaths in New Zealand continues to be suicide and action needs to be taken to reduce the figures, a report says.
According to the annual report of the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC), released on Wednesday, there were 13 deaths from suicide between 2006 and 2010, representing almost a quarter of the total 57 maternal deaths recorded.
Maternal deaths are those among pregnant women and mothers with newborn babies up to six weeks.
PMMRC chair Professor Cynthia Farquhar says the report contains recommendations to reduce the figures, including establishing a mother and baby unit in the North Island, in addition to an existing unit in Christchurch.
The report also recommends the referral of pregnant women and new mothers with a history of mental illness for psychiatric assessment and management, even if they are currently well.
"There also needs to be better coordination between existing services in the primary and specialist sectors and processes for sharing information between providers," Prof Farquhar said.
Other frequent causes of maternal deaths between 2006 and 2010 included maternal pre-existing medical conditions, of which there were 11 cases, and nine cases of amniotic fluid embolism.
Prof Farquhar said the report found that one in three maternal deaths was potentially avoidable.
"New Zealand has very good maternity services, but there is always scope to learn and improve."
She said the most common factors contributing to potentially avoidable deaths of babies and mothers were not being able to access the necessary health services, issues with the skills of health care professionals, and organisational issues such as a delay in procedures.
* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline's 24-hour telephone counselling service on 0800 543 354.