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US Maternal Mortality Rates Surpass Those of Other High-Income Countries

A new report suggests that more American women die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications than women in other high-income nations, with Black mothers facing the greatest risks.

According to a June 4 report by The Commonwealth Fund, maternal mortality rates among American women, particularly Black women, are double or triple that of other comparable nations.

To conduct the analysis, the investigators examined maternal health data from 14 countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Norway, the United Kingdom, and more.

The data showed that in the U.S., 22 maternal deaths occurred per 100,000 live births in 2022, and American women had the highest maternal death rate among all other countries analyzed. Moreover, there were 49.5 deaths per 100,000 live births among Black women.

In comparison, Norway experienced zero maternal deaths in 2022.

What's more, analysts say that more than 80% of maternal deaths among Black women in the U.S. are likely preventable.

The report also shows that nearly 65% of maternal deaths in the U.S. happen from one day to one year after the baby is born. Severe bleeding, high blood pressure, and infection are the most common causes of death during the first week after giving birth. The leading cause of maternal death in the following weeks or months is cardiomyopathy or heart muscle disease.

The results align with rising trends in maternal mortality revealed in a 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report and a 2023 analysis which found maternal death rates among younger women are increasing.

In a press release, lead study author Munira Gunja, a Commonwealth Fund Senior Researcher, said, "This study provides a bleak picture of how poorly the U.S. is performing when it comes to maternal mortality rates compared to other high-income countries. With 80 percent of Black maternal deaths in the U.S. deemed preventable, there is no doubt we are facing a critical public health crisis. It's imperative we invest in evidence-based solutions that improve outcomes and save lives."

Why do American women face higher maternal mortality rates?

The study's authors say that ongoing health care disparities, lack of support at home via nurse or midwife visits, and the absence of guaranteed paid maternity leave may be factors in the alarmingly high maternal death rates in the U.S.

A shortage of healthcare professionals, particularly obstetricians and midwives, also likely plays a role. The analysts suggest midwives improve birth outcomes but are outnumbered by obstetricians in the U.S. and Canada.

According to the report, strategies to improve pregnancy and birth outcomes include:

  • Ensuring access to high-quality primary care
  • Providing comprehensive support after childbirth
  • Emphasizing midwifery in the workforce
  • Extending Medicaid coverage for an entire year postpartum

Commonwealth Fund President Joseph Betancourt, M.D., said, "We have to build a strong, equitable health care system where everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from, can get the care they need at every stage of their life. These maternal mortality data make it clear we are falling far short of that goal. But it also shows us what is possible with the right policies, practices, and priorities in place."

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