Yes, it’s true that U.S. maternal mortality rates have increased, but the reason behind this spike is not what you might think. More women are not actually dying from complications with childbirth, so what is it exactly that leads to the surplus of data that claims they are?

In a recent study conducted at Boston University, researchers found that an error in how the data has been collected on maternal mortality rates is in fact the main result for the upward spike in numbers.

“It is an international embarrassment that the United States, since 2007, has not been able to provide a national maternal mortality rate to international data repositories,” researchers wrote in a piece on

The previous underreporting of deaths likely derives from the fact that physicians completing death records fail to report that a woman was pregnant, or had a recent pregnancy in 50% or more cases.

However, physicians are not entirely to blame. The inability to provide accurate data is in  correlation with the acute underfunding of state and national vital statistic systems.

Read More: Former Traditional Birth Attendants Are Saving Mothers and Babies in Sierra Leone

The adaptation of the 2003 birth and death certificates includes a box with six subcategories, some of which are included to identify if a woman was pregnant at the time of death, or 42 days before the time of death.

Perhaps the reason physicians are not reporting pregnancy in death records is because in several states in the U.S. since 2003, they have not been prompted to do so.

Though inaccurate data has revealed itself as the main source for the rising numbers, other factors such as age, weight, race and access to equal medical care are also culprits in this unfortunate upward trend.

Dr. Michael Brodman, chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York explained to CNN, that obesity is one of the leading causes of mortality in the OB/GYN field. Complications from obesity, such as hypertension and diabetes, can explain some of the increases in death.

Age contributes as well – 32.3% of women who died due to pregnancy complications were over the age of 35. This is concerning as more women are continuing to give birth at older ages.

Read More: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Maternal Health 

Women who become pregnant later in life are more likely to enter pregnancy with an array of chronic health conditions, making them more susceptible to pregnancy complications.

The dramatic increase in the number of cesarean section births is another factor contributing to the increase in maternal mortality rates as surgery carries more risk for the mother and baby.

One aspect of maternal mortality that has not changed is its correlation to race.

“The risk of maternal mortality has remained about three to four times higher among black women than white women during the past six decades,” according to Scientific America.

These factors all dovetail with health care accessibility, and though the inexcusable misrepresentation of data is the most significant reason for the influx of high numbers, good and affordable health care along with age and weight are also relevant, leading factors in maternal mortality rates in the U.S.

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Demand Equity

Why More Mothers Appear to Be Dying in the United States

By Sydney Denmark