Although maternal death has become a very rare event in high-resource countries, the maternal mortality ratio in these countries continues to serve as an important indicator of maternal health and as an indicator of the performance of their health-care systems.

Given the limitations of maternal mortality statistics based on death certificates (underestimation, differential inclusion biases), an ad hoc system aimed at studying every maternal death appears essential.

Since 1996, national confidential enquiries on maternal mortality (ENCMM) have been performed continuously in France. Scientific responsibility for this continuous survey was initially assigned to Inserm Unit 149, which subsequently became 953 and is now 1153 – the EPOPé team. As of today, the ENCMM has recorded 1800 maternal deaths across France.


The ENCMM studies all maternal deaths in France with a dual objective:

  1. an epidemiologic characterization of maternal mortality and its trends over time – level, risk factors, profile of causes, mainly according to a quantitative approach
  2. an analysis of the circumstances of the onset and management of the morbid events and the fatal outcome, to identify avenues for improvement, mainly by a qualitative approach.

The national expert committee on maternal mortality (CNEMM) is responsible for analyzing all maternal deaths nationwide to identify these avenues. The committee is composed of gynecologist-obstetricians, anesthesiologist-critical-care specialists, midwives, a specialist in internal medicine, and epidemiologists; in 2014, it was placed under the authority of the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVS) which in 2016 became Public Health France (SPF). A psychiatry expert is involved in the analysis of deaths in a psychiatric context or suicides. A forensic pathologist is associated with the analysis of those maternal deaths for which an autopsy, or other post-mortem examination, was performed.


To ensure the exhaustive and confidential collection of these data, the ENCMM set up a 3-stage procedure, approved by the National Data Protection Authority (CNIL DR-2018-157).

  • Stage 1: Identification of “pregnancy-associated” deaths
  1. all perinatal health networks that cover the entire country directly report potentially maternal deaths in facilities in their catchment area. Since November 2022, via the electronic death certificate, the ENCMM coordination is alerted directly in the occurrence of certification of a death in the context of pregnancy or childbirth (specific questions in the certificate).
  2. death certificates, with the participation of the center for the epidemiology of causes of death (CepiDc);
  3. INSEE’s national database of birth and death certificates makes it possible to identify women who died in the year after they gave birth;
  4. the national discharge statistics (PMSI) allows the identification of hospital deaths in an obstetric context.
  • Stage 2: Documentation of deaths

After obtaining the agreement of the attending physician, the EPOPé team notifies a two-person team of assessors that is assigned to collect the relevant information (woman’s history, course of the pregnancy, circumstance of the onset of the events that led to death, and the care provided). This team is composed of volunteer clinicians, one an obstetrician or midwife and the other an anesthesiologist-critical-care specialist or a psychiatrist (depending on  the context). The records are centralized by the ENCMM coordination and anonymized before their examination by the committee of experts.

  • Stage 3: Review and classification of deaths

This is the specific task of the CNEMM. In plenary meetings, each death that has been investigated is discussed collegially, based on all of the information available. At the conclusion of this conference, the committee reaches a consensual judgment about:

  1. the ”maternal” nature (causal association with the pregnancy) or not (temporal but not causal association) of the death. And if it is a maternal death
  2. the appropriateness of the care provided: care is classified as optimal or non-optimal, and
  3. the preventability of the death: it is judged to have been unpreventable, possibly preventable, or probably preventable, depending on the existence of circumstances the correction of which might or would have avoided the fatal outcome.

Triennial reports describe the results of this survey, as do articles in scientific journals.

They contribute nationally to public health indicators in the “Population Health Status Report”. Internationally, they contribute to the WHO global reports on maternal mortality.

Institutions involved

Inserm 1153, EPOPé team; Santé Publique France; CépiDC


  • Catherine Deneux-Tharaux (, Doctor, Research Professor Inserm, Scientific Director, ENCMM
  • Monica Saucedo (, Doctor, Epidemiologist, IR Inserm
  • Aude Almeras, midwife, National Coordinator, ENCMM
  • Email :
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