When it comes to maternal mortality, many women believe natural complications of pregnancy cause more deaths than other more violent causes, but researchers have found this to be incorrect. According to a new study, suicide and homicide cause more maternal deaths than researchers once believed.

Between 2003 and 2007, the Centers for Disease Control reported nearly 100 maternal deaths from suicide and nearly 140 maternal deaths from homicide. According to the CDC, more than 60% of violent deaths occurred during pregnancy.

The results of the study shine a stronger light on the need for mental health care during pregnancy. The women most at risk of violent deaths during pregnancy were Caucasian, accounting for nearly 78% of all suicide maternal deaths. Of these cases, more than 50% were 24 years of age or younger and unmarried.

Another study completed in 2003 in Great Britain found suicide as the leading cause of death during pregnancy. This study was completed independently of the Great Britain study, though the outcomes were similar.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists partnered with the American Psychiatric Association to develop maternal guidelines for mental health care. These guidelines can be used by obstetricians to reduce the risk of suicide during pregnancy, but women must present with mental health symptoms or seek help from their obstetrician for mental health conditions in order to receive treatment.

Researchers believe that actual numbers of maternal deaths related to suicide and homicide may be underreported because some death certificates are marked as “unknown” deaths. There is also the chance that autopsies did not include a pregnancy exam and thus an early pregnancy could have gone undetected.

In addition to information from the CDC, reports from police departments, coroner’s offices and medical reports were used in the study.

Source: Christie L. Palladino M.D., et al. Georgia Health Sciences University. 20 October 2011.