Hundreds of American women are dying from pregnancy or childbirth every year, and most of their deaths are preventable, according to a CDC report.

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen and Renee Cherry
Updated May 08, 2019

Health care in America might be advanced (and expensive), but it still has room for improvement—particularly when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Not only are hundreds of American women dying from pregnancy-related complications every year, but many of their deaths are preventable, according to a new CDC report.

The CDC has previously established that about 700 women die in the U.S. every year from pregnancy-related issues. The agency’s new report breaks down the percentages of deaths that occurred during and after pregnancy from 2011–2015, as well as how many of those deaths were preventable. During that time period, 1,443 women died during pregnancy or on the delivery day, and 1,547 women died afterward, up to one year postpartum, according to the report. (Related: C-Section Births Have Almost Doubled In Recent Years—Here's Why That Matters)

Even bleaker, three in five of the deaths were preventable, according to the report. During delivery, most of the deaths were caused by hemorrhage or amniotic fluid embolism (when amniotic fluid enters the lungs). Within the first six days of giving birth, the leading causes of death included hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (like preeclampsia), and infection. From six weeks out through one year, most of the deaths resulted from cardiomyopathy (a type of heart disease).

In its report, the CDC also put a number on racial disparity in maternal death rates. The pregnancy-related mortality rate in black and American Indian/Alaska Native women were 3.3 and 2.5 times, respectively, the mortality rate in white women. That lines up with the current conversation around stats showing black women are disproportionately affected by pregnancy and childbirth complications. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Preeclampsia—aka Toxemia)

This isn't the first time a report showed the staggering rates of maternal death in the U.S. For starters, the U.S. ranked number one for the highest rate of maternal deaths out of all developed nations, according to 2015's State of the World's Mothers, a report compiled by Save the Children.

More recently, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that the rate of maternal death in 48 states and Washington D.C. was increasing, growing by about 27 percent between 2000 and 2014. For comparison, 166 out of the 183 countries surveyed showed decreasing rates. The study drew a lot of attention to the rising maternal mortality rate in the U.S., particularly in Texas, where the number of cases doubled between 2010 and 2014 alone. However, last year the Texas Department of State of Health Services gave an update, saying that the actual number of deaths was less than half of what had been reported thanks to misregistering deaths in the state. In its most recent report, the CDC pointed out that errors in reporting pregnancy status on death certificates might have affected its numbers.

This compounds the now well-established fact that pregnancy-related mortality is a serious problem in the U.S. The CDC offered some potential solutions to prevent future deaths, like standardizing how hospitals approach pregnancy-related emergencies and stepping up follow-up care. Hopefully, its next report paints a different picture.


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