Hundreds of Americans are dying from pregnancy-related causes every year, and most of their deaths are preventable, according to data from the CDC.
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Deaths from pregnancy-related causes may seem like a thing of the past, but they occur more often than you might expect. Hundreds of Americans die from pregnancy-related complications every year, and the majority of their deaths are preventable, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC has placed the current maternal mortality rate at about 700 deaths in the U.S. every year, based on its latest statistics. This includes mothers of all ages who die during pregnancy, at delivery, or within 42 days of delivery from a cause that's not accidental but related to pregnancy. In 2019, the most recent year that the agency has shared data on, the maternal mortality rate was 20.1 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births. That number was only 7.2 in 1987, and the CDC has noted an upward trend in the rate of deaths since then. As for why there seems to be an increase? Unfortunately, the reason for the trend is "unclear," but it may have to do with previous errors in noting pregnancy status on death records, according to the CDC. (Related: C-Section Births Have Almost Doubled In Recent Years—Here's Why That Matters)

In 2019, the CDC released a report that broke 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 died afterward, up to one year postpartum.

Even bleaker, three in five of the deaths were preventable, according to the report. During delivery, most of the deaths were caused by hemorrhage (bleeding from a damaged blood vessel) or amniotic fluid embolism (when the amniotic fluid that surrounds a baby during pregnancy enters the mother's bloodstream). Within the first six days of giving birth, the leading causes of death included hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (e.g. preeclampsia), and infection. From six weeks post-delivery through one year, most of the deaths resulted from cardiomyopathy (a type of heart disease).

Of particular note — especially over the recent years — is the racial disparity in the rate of maternal deaths in the U.S. Data from the CDC taken from 2014–2017 found that the maternal death rate for white women is 13.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, and that number jumps to 41.7 deaths per 100,000 live births for Black women. Differences in access to care, quality of care, prevalence of chronic diseases, structural racism, and implicit biases could all be to blame, according to the CDC. (Related: Why the U.S. Desperately Needs More Black Female Doctors)

In 2016, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that the rate of maternal death in 48 states and Washington D.C. increased, growing by about 27 percent between 2000 and 2014. For comparison, 166 out of 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, in 2018, 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 2019 report, the CDC upholds that addressing the causes of maternal deaths is crucial right now, regardless of whether errors in pregnancy death reporting have ever led to overestimated or underestimated stats. The agency offers some potential solutions to prevent future deaths, such as standardizing how hospitals approach pregnancy-related emergencies and stepping up follow-up care, ensuring that new moms have contact with ob-gyns for their first three weeks postpartum and that they receive care tailored to their individual needs. (Related: This Midwife Has Dedicated Her Career to Helping Women In Maternal Care Deserts)