Childbirth Deaths on the Rise

US has highest maternal mortality among developed nations

Peggy O'Mara

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For over 100 years, maternal mortality (the rate of women dying during childbirth or within 42 days afterwards) has steadily declined in the US. It dropped from 607.9 deaths per 100,000 in 1915 to 7.1 deaths per 100,000 in 1998. Since then, however, maternal deaths in the US have been on the rise.

According to the CDC, US maternal mortality was 17.4 per 100,000 in 2018. In 2019, US maternal mortality rose to 20.1 per 100,000 and in 2020 it increased again to 23.8 per 100,000.

These increased deaths in 2020 were significantly higher among non-Hispanic Black Women: 55.3 deaths per 100,000 — 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women.

How does the US compare to other high income countries?

US women are much more likely to die in childbirth than are women in 10 other high-income countries. In fact, the 2020 US maternal mortality of 23.8 per 100,000 is more than double that of each of the ten other countries and it is 14 times higher than the maternal mortality of New Zealand:

  • France: 8.7 per 100,000
  • Canada: 8.6 per 100,000
  • UK: 6.5 per 100,000
  • Australia: 4.8 per 100,000
  • Switzerland: 4.6 per 100,000
  • Sweden: 4.3 per 100,000
  • Germany: 3.2 per 100,000
  • Netherlands: 3.0 per 100,000
  • Norway: 1.8 per 100,000
  • New Zealand: 1.7 per 100,000

When and how do women die?

About 33% of US deaths attributed to maternal mortality occur during pregnancy, 17% occur on the day of delivery and most — 52% — occur after delivery or during the postpartum period. The first six weeks after delivery is a critical time. Of the 52% of deaths that occur during the postpartum period, 40% occur during the first 42 days after childbirth.

In the first week postpartum, severe bleeding, high blood pressure and infection are the most common contributors to maternal deaths, while the leading cause of late deaths is cardiomyopathy, a…

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Peggy O'Mara

Peggy O’Mara is an award winning journalist. She was the Editor and Publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years. Her focus is Family, Health, and Justice.