The number of women dying annually due to pregnancy or childbirth in the United States has not decreased since they were last reported in 2007, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report also indicates that older and black women continue to be at a higher risk of maternal death in the country.
The CDC released the National Vital Statistics report on US maternal mortality on Thursday. It is the most recent official report published with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on the topic in over a decade. Experts say the findings reveal the maternal death rate remains too high, according to CNN.
The report defined maternal death as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of being pregnant from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or the management of the pregnancy.” Maternal deaths in the report do not include women who died by suicide or homicide.
The study’s researchers altered the method previously used to collect and examine data on maternal deaths. They considered the deaths of women who were listed as pregnant on their death certificates as maternal deaths, even if the cause of their death had not been attributed to pregnancy — rather than only counting deaths recorded specifically as maternal deaths.
Although the new method was supposed to make maternal mortality estimates more accurate, the researchers acknowledged that maternal deaths may be underestimated for women over 45 and overestimated for ages 10 to 44. Measuring how frequently maternal deaths occur per every 10,000 births poses challenges, researchers said.
@NCHStats releases three reports providing significant new insight into #maternalmortality measurement in the United States and announces detailed data files for researchers https://t.co/wmMb0NM8iJpic.twitter.com/7ddps4DAfc— NCHS (@NCHStats) January 30, 2020
The report found that a total of 658 women in the US died due to pregnancy or childbirth in 2018, the year the most recent national data was recorded.
There were 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the US. The maternal death rate among black women was 37.1 deaths per 100,000 live births, a rate up to three times the rates for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women.
Heart disease, which disproportionately affects black women, and stroke are the leading cause of maternal death. Obesity, which can cause issues during and post-pregnancy, is also more common in black women. But negligence as a result of racial bias plays into the lack of care provided to black women, too.
Researchers also found that the older a woman is, the more likely she is to have a maternal death. The maternal death rate among women 40 years old and older was 81.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, almost eight times the number for women under 25.
The maternal death rate in the US is a major public health concern that needs to be prioritized, experts told CNN. About 60% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, but the rate has not decreased in the US.
"Maternal mortality is an important indicator of the health of a nation," Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, told NBC. "These are deaths that are almost entirely preventable, and these are deaths that are occurring at a time that is supposed to be about birth, not death, so it's particularly poignant when a mother dies in childbirth."
Quality health care throughout pregnancy, as well as during and after childbirth, is key to preventing maternal mortality. Barriers like poverty, distance to facilities, lack of information, poor quality services, and harmful practices all need to be addressed to ensure all women can receive the maternal health care they need.