Delivering a healthy baby is the primary focus of childbirth, but the baby's life is not the only one on the line.

Labour childbirth - breathing exercises
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Medical professionals in the Garden State are taking a sharper look at keeping mothers alive during pregnancy and in the several months following, as New Jersey deals with a rising maternal mortality rate.

According to Robyn D'Oria, New Jersey chair for the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, pregnancy-related deaths in New Jersey rose from 20.8 per 100,000 in 2004, to 37.8 deaths in 2015.

"There are many reasons ... It can include increasing maternal age, obesity rates, the prevalence of chronic disease," D'Oria said.

She spoke in June before the Assembly Women and Children committee, which held a special hearing on the matter.

Between 2004 and 2006, she said, half of all maternal deaths featured women with one or more chronic diseases, and 47.5 percent were considered overweight. From 2011 to 2013, those percentages jumped to 60 and 56, respectively.

"In 1990, about 11.8 percent of births were to women 35 and older. As of 2015 — 22.9 percent," she added.

At 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, the U.S. is said to have the worst rate among all developed countries.

According to D'Oria, it's believed that up to 50 percent of maternal deaths can be prevented.

New Jersey has one of the longest-running maternal mortality review teams in the nation, reviewing all cases in which a woman dies within one year of pregnancy. Eight years ago, the Perinatal Safety Collaborative — a volunteer group of stakeholders — was launched to help improve outcomes.

Aline Homes, senior vice president of clinical affairs for the New Jersey Hospital Association, said there's been success in reducing elective deliveries in the Garden State — from 8 percent to less than 1 percent over four years.

"We found that a lot of women were having their babies, for any number of reasons, between weeks 37 and 39," Homes said.

The New Jersey Department of Health said it has several initiatives and programs that focus on maternal mortality, as well as maternal and child health. The department leads the mortality review program

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