Maternal Sepsis: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention


Maternal sepsis is a serious bacterial infection that occurs during pregnancy, inside the uterus or womb. It is an unnatural development inside the body, which involves the nerves, cells, and the pregnancy hormones. The bacteria commonly involved in triggering this disease are Group A Streptococcus (GAS) and E. Coli. Maternal sepsis causes injuries to the internal organs and tissues. This can develop from infections in any part of a pregnant woman’s body. However, it mainly develops from urinary tract infections, influenza, and pneumonia. Maternal sepsis is a deadly disease and can affect up to nearly 1/3 of the world’s expecting women. This disease is most common in the developing countries, as compared to the developed ones, due to inferior healthcare systems and lack of clean sanitary options. Maternal sepsis continues to be one of the leading factors for deaths among pregnant women.

Read More: Best Treatment for Neonatal Sepsis

Pregnant women who are at the highest risk of contracting maternal sepsis are:

  • Women who have diabetes
  • Women with a previous history of multiple miscarriages
  • Women who undergo invasive treatments to conceive
  • Women who go through invasive tests during pregnancy
  • Women who are in labour for particularly prolonged periods
  • Women who carry the foetus inside the womb for long hours after the breaking of their water sac
  • Women who linger in polluted areas during the middle and advanced stages of their pregnancy
  • Women who consume large quantities of unprocessed meat

The major signs and symptoms of maternal sepsis are:

Major Signs and Symptoms of Maternal Sepsis

1. Acute pain in the lower abdomen

Maternal sepsis, as we know, is a serious bacterial development inside the uterus or the womb. This naturally leads to extremely painful cramps inside the uterus and throughout the uterine and vaginal area. If you notice a sudden spike in the levels of your regular abdominal cramps, consult your gynaecologist for immediate diagnosis and treatment.

2. Increased vaginal discharge with a foul smell

Vaginal discharge is a common occurrence throughout pregnancy, but an unnatural increase in the amount of discharge, accompanied by a foul odour or a yellowish colour, can be a sign of serious complications. As soon as you sense a distortion in your daily dose of vaginal discharge during pregnancy, consult your doctor for clarity on the situation.


Maternal Sepsis

3. Vaginal bleeding

While a moderate amount of vaginal discharge is common during pregnancy, it is particularly worrying to witness traces of blood in your underwear. One of the most common symptoms of maternal sepsis is a bleeding vagina. Make sure that you get your abdomen tested on a regular basis, to avoid this infection or get yourself diagnosed at an early stage.

4. Chills in the body

Another very common sign of maternal sepsis is a chilling sensation and numbness throughout the body. If you experience a sudden freezing of your limbs and dizziness, inform your doctor and get yourself tested. Since this does not sound like an extreme symptom, most women tend to ignore the same and take it as normal pregnancy occurrence. It is always better to get yourself tested whenever you feel that something is out of place. In this way, you can save yourself and the baby from a life-threatening disease.

Maternal sepsis, if detected at the right time, can be treated through medication, admitting the patients to intensive care units. In 2012, in the US, almost 30% pregnant women were admitted to ICUs with maternal sepsis. However, the rate is reducing, now that many senior researchers are coming up with new medications. Whenever it occurs, maternal sepsis must be treated as a medical emergency and the patient(s) must be admitted to the hospital immediately after diagnosis of the same.

The most common and important treatment processes involved here are:


Depending on the severity of the infection, your doctor will initially provide you with an array of oral antibiotics followed by intra venous antibiotics. This is done to ensure that the antibiotics are administered equally throughout the body, and that they are absorbed by the blood for the quickest possible reaction.


Intra venous fluids

Although antibiotics are administered as a first level treatment process, it is vital to inject the patient with extra fluids that will help their blood pressure from dropping to extreme low levels, which might lead to a coma. One of the most common fluids administered is the normal saline, which is crystalloid in form. This contains sodium, which is added to the circulatory system for the cleansing of the harmful bacteria. Another type of fluid, which is thicker, administered to women facing maternal sepsis, is colloid. This is also an intra venous fluid that includes albumin and dextran.

Arterial lines

Women with maternal sepsis are usually admitted to the ICU, in which their arteries are pierced to insert arterial lines that help in obtaining direct blood samples and measuring the blood pressure of the patients. This enables the doctors to monitor the gravity of the situation and provide appropriate medication or surgical treatment.

Central venous catheter

In serious cases, when quick flow of strong antibiotics is required to restore the patient’s condition, doctors opt for a central line or passage for administering the fluids so that the body absorbs the medicines quicker.


This is a form of steroids that are injected into the patients’ bodies to cleanse the infected blood and reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids are a form of intra venous medicines that help in strengthening the immune system to ease the process of recovery.

Pulmonary artery catheter

A needle or catheter is inserted into the pulmonary artery of the patient. This blood vessel pumps the blood from the heart to the lungs so that there can be ample oxygen supply in the body. This helps the doctor analyse the situation and recommend the required amount of antibiotic for healing.

Mechanical ventilation

This process is used on patients who are in severe shock and are not even able to breathe on their own. In this type of ventilation, the affected person is intubated and then the tube is attached to a ventilator to facilitate rhythmic breathing.


PreSep(tm) catheter

This is a process whereby, while the patient is in the ICU, their oxygen levels are measured on a regular basis. In this way, doctors can trace the improvement rate or deterioration rate and administer medicated fluids accordingly.

Although maternal sepsis can be treated if diagnosed at the right time, there are certain precautions that must be followed.

According the WHO, in a recent publication, the general precautions to prevent sepsis are:

  • Quality care during pregnancy
  • Complete hygiene to be maintained throughout pregnancy and after childbirth
  • Timely tests and medications
  • Proper and balanced diet

Maternal sepsis is a deadly disease but not as long as you are careful about your surroundings. Follow your doctor’s instructions and know the symptoms of the disease so that there is no delay in treatment.