Anesthesia has improved and become safer for women in labor. How safe is anesthesia in pregnancy with respect to some of the other causes of serious complications in labor?
The CDC has been tracking this since 1987 when they established the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, and all the states provide them with copies of actual death certificates for them to glean data to help improve the health of women. From 1900 to 1990 the chance of dying in childbirth decreased by 99%.
In the US when we look at the cause of deaths from maternal causes, we look at the group of women who suffered a complication compared to total live birth rate. In other countries they often look at miscarriages and pregnancy terminations as well as tubal pregnancies, so be careful if you are comparing us to other places, as counting varies from population to population.
A group of researchers from the University of Florida noticed that from a standpoint of the gravest complication of pregnancy, the two most common causes of serious problems were blood clot (embolism) and high blood pressure. Furthermore, they noted that the women who suffered the greatest were women who did not get in for prenatal care. When the researchers looked carefully at medical records, they discovered that almost all women who die from an anesthesia-related complication have had a C-section, that epidural and spinal anesthesia is safer than having general anesthesia, and that it's still extraordinarily safe, with only a one in a million chance of dying from anesthesia.