The Centers for Disease Control released a new maternal mortality rate in the United States on Monday, and it makes a big splash: the maternal mortality rate in the United States exceeds 600 deaths per 100,000 live births.
It is an eye-popping statistic and certainly worthy of public attention. If we are serious about bringing the maternal mortality rate down to 0 deaths per 100,000 births, the new report shows that we still have a long way to go.
It may not be the only such number that exists either, however. There are several other important reasons why the U.S. maternal mortality rate is so far off its goal:
– The 2016 maternal mortality report only measured maternal deaths in pregnant women. For this reason, it does not include the deaths of babies who are stillborn or die as a result of delivery-related complications. This leaves out 1.2 million fewer maternal deaths every year in the United States. A related issue is that the CDC’s new mother mortality rate fails to account for all reasons a pregnancy might go wrong, including those that aren’t typically shown in maternal mortality reports. In contrast, the World Health Organization, for example, studies only maternal death after childbirth, and the CDC report’s definition of a pregnancy death excludes stillbirths and premature births (meaning many miscarriages are not counted).
– Many deaths of pregnant women don’t show up in the maternal mortality report at all. There are about one million postpartum hemorrhages every year and nearly all are not counted as maternal deaths. The vast majority of these may also go unnoticed, because they’re not life-threatening but are serious enough that they should be reported.
– Mothers who die at home from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications are not counted as maternal deaths because their deaths do not occur in a hospital.
One more important reason, however, why the United States is far away from its goal is that it’s still woefully under-reporting its maternal deaths. The U.S. is the only country in the world where it fails to report the death of any woman during childbirth or to document an individual’s cause of death.