Ronayne, Emma

Project title: Maternal mortality: Inevitable evolutionary obstetrical dilemma or preventable health outcome?

Department: Anthropology

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Helen Kurki

"This research project will look at of causes of postpartum and childbirth-related maternal mortality to investigate dominant perspectives on the evolutionary implications of bipedalism for risk in childbirth. The Obstetrical Dilemma posits that bipedalism and increasing brain size in our evolutionary history led to increased risk of obstructed labour. However, causes of maternal mortality are not only, or even predominantly related to pelvic morphology (i.e., cephalopelvic disproportion during labour), rather there are multiple 'obstetrical dilemmas', or factors that may cause complications during childbirth, many of which may be preventable. By researching childbirth and maternal mortality, we can learn more about the evolutionary role of pelvic physiology and its associated complications during labour, as well as identify more critical determinants of mortality and preventative measures. Research will be conducted by using a variety of academic sources and critically looking at the World Health Organization’s statistics of maternal mortality across the globe. The goal of this project is to provide a better understanding of why maternal mortality occurs during, or soon after, childbirth, the role of pelvic physiology in an evolutionary sense (i.e., did childbirth become exponentially more dangerous and difficult alongside the evolution of bipedalism?), and why certain populations of women have higher statistics of maternal mortality during labour than others."