According to a new report from the CDC, pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are on the rise — and most deaths from pregnancy-related complications could have been prevented. The study, which drew from maternal mortality data from between 2011-2017, also found that Black and Indigenous women are three times more likely to die during or shortly after pregnancy than white women.
The CDC found that around 700 women in the United States die every year from pregnancy-related complications, which includes deaths during pregnancy, around the time of delivery and during the first year of the postpartum period. Approximately 60 percent of those deaths were preventable, the CDC found; factors that contributed to those deaths included lack of access to quality care, missed or delayed diagnoses, and a lack of awareness among patients and care providers about warning signs.
“Our new analysis underscores the need for access to quality services, risk awareness, and early diagnosis, but it also highlights opportunities for preventing future pregnancy-related deaths,” Wanda Barfield M.D., director of the Division of Reproductive Health in CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in the agency's press release. “By identifying and promptly responding to warning signs not just during pregnancy, but even up to a year after delivery, we can save lives.”
The report also found a significant racial disparity in pregnancy-related deaths: According to the study, Black and Indigenous women are much more likely than white women to die during pregnancy, delivery or in the first year thereafter.
While the pregnancy-related death rate of white women was 13 per 100,000 live births, that rate was 42.8 and 32.5 per 100,000 for Black and Indigenous women, respectively, the CDC report found. Overall, the pregnancy-related death rate in the United States was 17 per 100,000 live births.
A variety of medical factors were to blame for pregnancy-related deaths, according to the CDC's report, but around 30 percent of them were attributable to stroke and heart disease. Obstetric emergencies were responsible for the most deaths during delivery, while severe bleeding, high blood pressure, and infection were the most common causes of death for women who died a week after giving birth. Among pregnancy-deaths that occurred between a week and a year after delivery, weakened heart muscles were responsible for the most.
“Ensuring quality care for mothers throughout their pregnancies and postpartum should be among our Nation’s highest priorities,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in the agency's statement. “Though most pregnancies progress safely, I urge the public health community to increase awareness with all expectant and new mothers about the signs of serious pregnancy complications and the need for preventative care that can and does save lives.”
According to a sweeping report in USA Today, over 50,000 women in America are severely injured during childbirth every year. USA Today's report largely blamed hospitals for failing to take necessary measures to ensure pregnant women's safety. In October 2018, the House Ways and Means Committee launched an investigation into maternal mortality and injury rates; two years later, President Trump signed the the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act, which established a federal infrastructure for studying and collecting data on pregnancy-related deaths.