Maternal deaths in the U.S. keep climbing

An increasing number of U.S. women are dying during pregnancy or soon after giving birth, according to the latest data on the maternal mortality rate.

In 2021, there were 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 23.8 per 100,000 in 2020 and 20.1 in 2019, the National Center for Health Statistics reports March 16. The U.S. rate greatly exceeds those of other high-income countries. The total number of U.S. maternal deaths rose from 861 in 2020 to 1,205 in 2021.

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There remains a wide disparity in the maternal mortality rate for Black women, at 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with white women, at 26.6 per 100,000. Many social determinants of health underlie this gap, including differences in the quality of care that Black women receive before, during and after pregnancy.

The NCHS report doesn’t discuss the reasons behind the increase for 2021. But COVID-19 contributed to a quarter of maternal deaths in 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in October. The pandemic also contributed to the mortality disparity between Black and white women, the GAO found, worsening existing structural inequities that lead to such issues as barriers to getting health care (SN: 4/10/20).

The maternal deaths captured by the NCHS report are those that occur during pregnancy or within 42 days of the end of the pregnancy, “from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management.” These causes include hemorrhaging, infections and high blood pressure disorders such as eclampsia.

The report excludes deaths after 42 days and up to the first year after birth. But 30 percent of pregnancy-related deaths occur during this period, the U.S. Centers for Disease…


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