Deaths Among Pregnant Women Increased in Recent Years: Study

Mortality rates among pregnant women women and new mothers rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, with drug overdoses, accidents, and domestic abuse increasing significantly.

New research suggests the rate of deaths among pregnant women or new mothers in the U.S. has increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, with drug overdoses accounting for many of the problems.

Pregnancy-related mortality rates increased significantly among pregnant women or women who gave birth within the past year for all causes of death. In addition, death rates were three to five times higher among Black women and American Indian or Alaska Native women for every cause of death, including suicide, according to findings of a new study published on January 27, in the journal JAMA Network Open.

In recent years, the United States has had high maternal mortality rates compared to other developed countries, but the findings of this new study indicate death rates may be worsening, largely spurred by pandemic-related stressors.

Maternal Deaths in the United States

Researchers from the University of Texas in San Antonio used data from the National Center for Health Statistics, and live birth information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WONDER database, to conduct a cross-sectional study of mortality rates among pregnant women and new mothers nationwide in 2019 and 2020.

According to the findings, the U.S. saw a total of 4,500 total maternal deaths during the study period. Death rates increased by 22% for pregnancy-associated causes and by 36% for non-pregnancy-related causes.

Researchers determined that death rates for pregnant women and recently pregnant women increased during the COVID-19 pandemic for all causes, including drug overdoses, homicides, and car accidents, with the greatest effects seen on Black and Native American women.

Drug overdoses accounted for the most deaths, leading to an increase of 42% from 2019 to 2020. The other most common causes of death included motor vehicle accidents and homicide which both increased by more than 30%. However, rates of suicide deaths did not increase.

Black and American Indian or Alaska Native women had the highest death rates across all causes of death. Black women faced an increased risk of homicide five times higher than any other race or ethnicity.

U.S. Healthcare Failing Pregnant Women

Researchers warned healthcare is failing women in the United States, leaving pregnant women and recently pregnant women more vulnerable to certain risk factors.

COVID-19 is only one factor in increasing women’s risk, however. Even before the pandemic, the pregnancy-related death rate increased by more than 4% every year from 2015 to 2019 compared to the 29% increase from 2019 to 2020. However, during the lockdown, more women faced violence from intimate partners. Pregnancy is a time when partner violence can begin, or often worsens in severity.

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During pregnancy, women have increased access to medical attention and often increased connection to the community, but after pregnancy not only does medical access decrease significantly, community and familial interaction can also decrease as a new mother is caring for their newborn.

Researchers warn that enhanced surveillance and intervention for vulnerable groups, especially Black and Native American women, is necessary and should be offered during pregnancy and following pregnancy.


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