Pregnancy-Related—and Often Preventable—Deaths Up Across the US

A bizarre trend in hospitals across the United States has practitioners concerned about the well-being of women with child. Apparently more women, in the United States, are dying from pregnancy-related causes than ever before.  Perhaps the only thing more bizarre than this, actually, is that more than half of these deaths appear to be preventable. 

According to Harvard University TH Chan School of Medicine obstetrician Dr. Neel Shah, “An American mom today is 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was.”

On Tuesday, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that indicates roughly one-third of maternal deaths occur during pregnancy; another third occur during the week of birth; the rest occur within the year following birth.  In addition, World Health Organization data shows that maternal mortality fell about 44 percent, globally, between 1990 and 2015.  In the United States, however, maternal death occurs in about 17 out of every 100,000 births, which is up from 12 out of 100,000 births about 25 years ago.  

New data, though, says that every year more than 50,000 women, in the United States, suffer serious childbirth-related complications.  And of that population, about 700 will die. While these 700-odd deaths, annually, are still pretty rare, their escalation over the past few decades are of definite concern. Also, the trend appears to be more common among African-American women. 

CDC Reproductive Health Division director Wanda Barfield also notes, “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.”

What is most upsetting, however, is that the most recent review determined that upwards of 60 percent of these deaths were preventable. Actually about three out of four problems contributing to death range from doctor error all the way to new mothers sometimes having trouble getting housing or even access to healthy food. 

And with that, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has released new guidelines advising that women should seek a comprehensive heart-risk evaluation 12 weeks after their delivery. Unfortunately, though, only slightly more than half do not return for this visit.  Payment issues, actually, may be at least one cause. 

Finally, CDC Director Robert Redfield advises, “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.”