Maternal Mortality Is On The Rise In The U.S., Even Though It's Going Down Everywhere Else

For women in the US, the risk of death during pregnancy or soon after giving birth is very real. Not only does the US have the highest maternal death rate of any developed country, but it's rates of maternal mortality in pregnancy are on the rise, while they fall dramatically in other nations. A special report by NPR's Renee Montagne and ProPublica's Nina Martin found that not only is the care and resources available to vulnerable American women and mothers extremely limited, but many of these deaths are, in fact, preventable.

Developed countries are judged not only on their GDP, but the quality of their medical care, and on the latter the US is failing. Women in the US are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related issues as Canadian women and six times as likely as Scandinavians. "The ability to protect the health of mothers and babies in childbirth is a basic measure of a society's development. Yet every year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and some 65,000 nearly die," states NPR's report.

Women are not getting the care they need, as analysis shows that maternal mortality increased in the US by 26.6 percent from 2000 to 2014; and according to the CDC Foundation, Nearly 60 percent of these deaths resulted from treatable complications. Though maternal mortality is higher among African-American women, and those in low-income or rural communities, it is far from an isolated phenomenon, notes NPR.

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Each year, US women die from from such complications as hemorrhaging, blood clots, infections, heart issues, and high blood pressure brought on by pregnancy (preeclampsia which can develop into eclampsia). With proper access to antenatal treatment, skilled care during delivery, and vigilance in the weeks after childbirth, many of these issues could be stopped before progressing to the worst scenario imaginable.

Conversely, Infant mortality has declined drastically while maternal mortality has shot up. The predominance of federal and state funding allocated for "maternal and child health" is overwhelmingly put towards "fetal and infant safety and survival." But beyond this neglectful lack of funding when it comes to women's health (an unsurprising reality in the US health care system), why are so many American women dying? NPR's report gives a long litany of possible explanations that could contribute to the statistics: "New mothers are older than they used to be, with more complex medical histories. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so many women don't address chronic health issues beforehand. Greater prevalence of C-sections leads to more life-threatening complications. The fragmented health system makes it harder for new mothers, especially those without good insurance, to get the care they need. Confusion about how to recognize worrisome symptoms and treat obstetric emergencies makes caregivers more prone to error." In other words: there is no quick and easy fix.


Rectifying the issue of maternal mortality will demand reforming the training of doctors in maternal-fetal medicine, establishing protocols for more consistent care, and allocating resources for hospital's treatment of complications. Beyond that, women should feel empowered to advocate for their prenatal and postnatal care, however, with a striking absence of women from the health care legislation now in the Senate, somehow I feel these changes are a long way off.