Childbed fever is an infection of the womb in new mothers which can lead to septicaemia.
Historically, childbed fever (puerperal sepsis) was the leading cause of maternal death in the UK but, due in part to antibiotics, cases have declined significantly since the 1930s and the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health reported no deaths attributable to sepsis between 1982 and 1984.
Since then, deaths have increased and septicaemia now accounts for 14% of direct causes of maternal death.1
In western medicine today childbed fever is unlikely to be caused by poor hygiene - although historically it was the lack of hygiene standards that led to its spread in epidemic proportions.
It is a very serious form of septicaemia, caused by organisms such as the Group A streptococcus (GAS) bacteria which, if untreated, may lead to toxic shock syndrome, multi-organ failure and death.
Although occasionally caused by retained placenta, most cases have no obvious underlying cause. A perfect, complication free delivery is no guarantee of safety from childbed fever, and anybody can be affected.
- Lewis, G (ed) 2007. The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH). Saving Mothers' Lives: reviewing maternal deaths to make motherhood safer - 2003-2005. The Seventh Report on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in the United Kingdom. London: CEMACH. ↩