Essential maternity care services include providing antenatal, delivery and postnatal care in a continuum to avert excess maternal deaths. This study assesses whether there is any significant difference in the utilization of maternal healthcare services between women from households that experienced any maternal death and women from households that did not experience any maternal death. Data from India’s District Level Households and Facility Survey, 2007–08 were used. A sample of 321 women (unweighted) aged 15–49 years residing in households that had experienced maternal death, and 217 737 women (unweighted) of the same age group living in households that did not experience any maternal death were found eligible for the analysis. Results indicate that women belonging to households that experienced maternal deaths were less likely to opt for full antenatal care [odds ratio (OR): 0.56; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.35–0.88] and postnatal care (OR: 0.82; 95% CI: 0.61–0.91) compared with women from households that did not experience any maternal death. Conversely, women belonging to households experiencing maternal deaths were more likely to utilize skilled birth attendants (OR: 1.31; 95% CI: 1.03–1.73) for their last delivery. This study hopes to draw the attention of program and policy makers to improve the reach of antenatal and postnatal care services, which are considered to be a supply side barrier compared with institutional delivery even by households that have reported maternal death.