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The Maternal Mortality Rate is… Going Up?

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Recently, several reliable news articles have highlighted the CDC’s conclusion that “the number of U.S. women dying due to pregnancy and childbirth more than doubled in 25 years1.” (“Why is the maternal mortality rate going up in the United States?”, Wallace, Kelly, CNN, 12/1/2015)  Twenty-five years ago, the rate was reported to have been 7.2 deaths of mothers per 100,000 live births in the U.S.  Currently, there are some theories why the numbers have jumped to 17.8 deaths per 100,000 births. (CNN, 12/1/2015)

One theory about this increase in numbers from 1987 to now is that many women in their child-bearing years presently have health problems associated with obesity (such as diabetes or hypertension) which can complicate pregnancies and deliveries, as well as the recovery process from those deliveries.  In addition, more C-sections are being performed and any time there is surgery, there is the possibility of infection or a negative outcome.

An unusual factor that may contriibute to the increase in numbers, Kelly Wallace of CNN points out, according to Dr. Andreea Creanga with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Reproductive Health, is an administrative factor in the manner standard U.S. death certificates in certain states now include a check-box.  Until now, the Standard U.S. Death Certificate was based on a form created in 19892. (“Has Maternal Mortality Really Doubled in the U.S.?”, Maron, Dina Fine; Scientific American, 6/8/2015) The current form’s check-box indicates more specifically than previously the manner of women’s deaths who were or may have been pregnant prior to their death (up to a year).  Not all states have adopted the use of this new death certificate, however, but this change in manner of recordation may have affected the numbers.

According to Wallace, some physicians are of the opinion that pre-natal care of women who are pregnant in some cases is lacking. In the African-American community. According to CDC’s Dr. Creanga, frequently “mothers are younger, more likely to be unmarried and will not have begun pre-natal care until their third trimester of pregnancy or not at all.” (CNN, 12/1/2015)  Creanga noted that poverty and lack of insurance also play a part in whether young women get pre-natal care or not.

Doctors across the country are focusing their attention on the contributing factors in this mortality rate increase. The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists’ Safe Mother Initiative is one result. Also the National Partnership of Maternal Safety is urging standardized care for pregnancy and childbirth complications so hospitals could follow standardized protocols for dealing with common issues that could cause the death of a mother or her offspring.


1 “Why is the maternal mortality rate going up in the United States?” , Wallace, Kelly, CNN, December 1, 2015. http://www.us.cnn.com/2015/12/01/health/maternal-mortality-rate-u-s-increasing-why/index.html

2  “Has Maternal Mortality Really Doubled in the U.S.?”, Maron, Dina Fine; Scientific American, June 8, 2015. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/has-maternal-mortality-really-doubled-in-the-u-s/

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