US: Maternal Mortality Hits Highest Level Since 1965

    US: Maternal Mortality Hits Highest Level Since 1965
    Last updated Mar 16, 2023
    Image credit: AP [via The Wall Street Journal]


    • The maternal mortality rate in the US rose 40% to 1,205 deaths in 2021, compared with 861 deaths in 2020 and 754 deaths in 2019, according to a report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics.[1]
    • The dramatic rise, which was compounded by COVID, has pushed the maternal mortality rate to 33 deaths per 100K live births – the highest since 1965.[2]
    • Furthermore, the report found the maternal mortality rate among Black women was 2.6 times the rate for White women, at 69.9 deaths per 100K live births.[3]
    • The report also showed that the maternal mortality rate increased with the mother’s age. Among women 40 years and older there was a death rate of 138.5 per 100K live births, 6.8 times higher than for women under 25.[4]
    • The US maternal mortality rate in 2021 was more than triple the rate of Canada, eight times the rate of the UK, and nearly 11 times the rate of Australia.[5]
    • The leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths in the US include mental health conditions, cardiovascular conditions, hemorrhage, and hypertension.[6]


    Narrative A

    COVID had a dramatic and tragic effect on maternal mortality rates, but we cannot let that fact obscure the reality that structural racism, systemic discrimination, and health inequities compounded the crisis. Until issues related to income inequality, family planning, education, and racial injustice are addressed, pregnancy-related deaths will continue to soar in the country and disproportionately effect the most vulnerable.

    Narrative B

    These results are disheartening, but not surprising considering the myriad of external facts causing them such as the COVID pandemic and the influence of higher rates of diabetes and obesity. While the US must address these crucial issues, pregnant women also have agency and could take steps to lower their mortality risk, including by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and ceasing the use of any substances.

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