The vast majority of deaths among pregnant women and new mothers in the United States are preventable, according to a new report.
For more than 4 out of 5 women who died during pregnancy, during delivery or up to a year postpartum – more than 84% – death could have been avoided with “reasonable changes” by health care providers, the community, the patient or others.
The data, published Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is based on detailed assessments of more than 1,000 pregnancy-related deaths between 2017 and 2019.
The analysis captures a period of time before the Covid-19 pandemic and before the US Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and the federal right to an abortion. Since then, maternal mortality in the US has gotten worse.
A study published in June found that maternal mortality spiked in the first year of the pandemic, especially among Hispanic and Black women.
Those researchers found that there were 25 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births between April and December 2020, up 33% compared with the rate of 19 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births for the two years prior.
The US is an outlier when it comes to maternal mortality, with rates that are many times higher than those of other wealthy nations. Black women in the US are three times more likely to die than White women in the US, while Native American women are twice as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes.
“Far too many women experience pain, neglect, and loss during what should be one of the most joyous times of their lives,” Vice President Kamala Harris wrote in a letter introducing the Biden administration’s “Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis” that launched in June.
The plan has five key goals aimed at making the US “the best country in the world to have a baby,” including better data on maternal health, a diversified health care work force that cares for women around the time of birth and better access to care, including behavioral and mental health.
The data published Monday by the CDC are based on analysis by Maternal Mortality Review Committees, which are meant to help identify recommendations to prevent deaths.
They found that about more than half of pregnancy-related deaths (53%) happened more than a week after birth. About 1 in 5 (22%) women died during pregnancy, and about 1 in 8 (13%) died the day of delivery.
Mental health conditions were the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths, involved in more than 1 in 5 deaths among pregnant women and new mothers. For Black women, heart conditions were the most common cause of death, and hemorrhage was the most common cause for Asian women.
Based on these findings, examples of prevention recommendations from the review committees include better access to insurance coverage to improve prenatal care and follow-up after pregnancy, better transportation options and better systems for referral and coordination.
“Everyone can help prevent pregnancy-related deaths,” the CDC said in a news release.
“Healthcare systems, communities, families, and other support systems need to be aware of the serious pregnancy-related complications that can happen during and after pregnancy. Listen to the concerns of people who are pregnant and have been pregnant during the last year and help them get the care they need.”