Using a provincial perinatal database for 15 years, 1988-2002. Cases were identified with one or more of the following markers of severe maternal morbidity: blood transfusion > or = 5 units, emergency hysterectomy, uterine rupture, eclampsia, intensive care (ICU) admission. There were 159,896 mothers delivered of whom 313 (2.0/1000) had 385 markers of severe morbidity (257 had one, 42 had two, 12 had three, and two had four). The following rates of morbidity were recorded: blood transfusion > or = 5 units 119 (0.74/1000); emergency hysterectomy 88 (0.55/1000); uterine rupture 49 (0.31/1000); eclampsia 46 (0.28/1000); ICU 83 (0.52/1000). There was a statistically significant association between multiparity > or = 1, and emergency hysterectomy and uterine rupture; between age > or = 35 years, and emergency hysterectomy, uterine rupture and ICU; and between caesarean delivery and blood transfusion > or = 5 units, emergency hysterectomy, uterine rupture, eclampsia and ICU. The main contributing obstetric complications were haemorrhage (64.7%) and complications of hypertensive disorders (16.8%).