There has been a slight rise in the number of women dying due to pregnancy or childbirth each year in the United States, and the maternal death rate among Black women is still three times the rate for White women, a new federal report shows.
The overall number of women identified as having died of maternal causes in the United States climbed from 658 in 2018 to 754 in 2019 and 861 in 2020, according to the new National Center for Health Statistics report, released Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report also shows that the nation’s maternal death rate has increased from about 17 deaths per every 100,000 live births in 2018 to 20 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019 and nearly 24 per 100,000 in 2020.
“Rates for non-Hispanic Black women were significantly higher than rates for non-Hispanic White and Hispanic women,” Donna Hoyert of the CDC’s Division of Vital Statistics wrote in the new report. “The increases from 2019 to 2020 for non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women were significant. The observed increase from 2019 to 2020 for non-Hispanic White women was not significant.”
The report finds that in 2020, the maternal death rate for Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births – 2.9 times the rate for White women.
The report also finds maternal death rates increased with age, rising in 2020 from nearly 14 deaths per 100,000 live births among women younger than 25 to about 23 deaths per 100,000 for those ages 25 to 39 and nearly 108 deaths per 100,000 for those 40 and older. The data shows that the rate for women 40 and older was 7.8 times higher than the rate for women under 25.
The new report is based on national death data from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System, and a maternal death was defined as a woman dying either while pregnant or within 42 days following pregnancy.
The rising maternal death rate identified in the new report is nothing new. The rate of pregnancy-related mortality in the United States has been rising steadily over the past three decades.
The new report suggests that increases in maternal death continued through the early days of the Covid-19 crisis, but an NCHS spokesperson wrote in an email to CNN that researchers need to conduct more studies to determine exactly how the pandemic might be connected to maternal health.
“The contribution of COVID-19 to increases in maternal deaths has not yet been fully examined by NCHS; however, an initial review of cause of death among maternal deaths indicates that it may be difficult to discern the role of COVID-19 as it contributed to a maternal death,” the NCHS spokesperson told CNN.
Health care practitioners and advocacy groups have raised the alarm that the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected communities of color and strained the resources of the country’s health care system, may further increase barriers to care for pregnant people.
The increased attention on health care disparities has spurred federal lawmakers to action. Last year, Rep. Lauren Underwood, Rep. Alma Adams, Sen. Cory Booker and members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus introduced the Black Maternal “Momnibus” Act, a sweeping bipartisan package of bills that aim to provide pre- and post-natal support for Black mothers – but most of the bills in the package are still making their way through Congress.
Meanwhile, the United States has the highest maternal death rate of any developed nation, according to the Commonwealth Fund and the latest data from the World Health Organization.
While maternal death rates remain unchanged or are rising in the United States, they are declining in most countries.