South African women are twelve times more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related conditions than their American or European counterparts, according to the Department of Health.

This is one of the messages of Pregnancy Education Week (February 19-25) organised by the health department to promote awareness of unacceptably high levels of maternal mortality and to encourage healthy pregnancies.

The health department’€™s Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths in South Africa Research shows that many women die in childbirth because of a lack of access to antenatal clinics, while others die while waiting for transport to take them to a hospital or clinic. Forty percent of women experience complications in childbirth and needed professional help when giving birth.

According to the “Saving Mothers Report” published by the National Committee on Confidential Enquiries Into Maternal Deaths in South Africa, the non-attendance of pregnant women at antenatal care classes is an important contributing factor to maternal mortality.

According to Procter and Gamble, the partner company with the Department of Health in Pregnancy Education Week, most South Africans in private healthcare give birth by means of caesarean section at a rate triple that of the USA.

A survey conducted by the South African Demographic and Health Survey and the Department of Health found that one in three pregnant women was under the age of 19. The number of teenage deliveries by caesarean section was one in eight. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that no more than 15% of births should be caesarean section.

Sister Nomawethu Qinisiwe of Gugulethu Clinic’€™s Midwife Obstetrics Unit says it is of great importance that pregnant women abstain from alcohol and smoking as this could harm their unborn babies.

Sister Qinisiwe further says there are certain dangers that pregnant women should be careful of:

Bleeding ‘€“ it is abnormal for a pregnant woman to menstruate. Bleeding could be the result of a rupturing of the membrane.

If there are no movements from the baby in the womb, the mother should consult the nearest clinic or doctor.

Sister Qinisiwe says a healthy diet plays a vital role. Pregnant women should eat roughage, fruit and vegetables and should drink lots of water to prevent constipation.