U.S. Maternal Death Rates Increased Significantly in 2021, CDC Reports

Black women have the highest rates of maternal death in the U.S., with nearly 70 deaths out of every 100,000 live births.

Federal health officials warn that maternal death rates have significantly increased since 2020 in the U.S., especially among Black women; highlighting a nationwide problem that is much worse than other developed nations.

More than 1,200 U.S. women died of maternal causes in 2021, according to new national health statistics released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 16, which represents sharp increases from the 861 maternal deaths in 2020, and 754 in 2019.

The report warns that, compared to other developed nations, maternal death rates are much worse in the United States, and that problem was likely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data comes from the National Vital Statistics System, which indicates the U.S. had a maternal mortality rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. That compares with 23.8 in 2020 and 20.1 in 2019, which the CDC warns is a significant increase.

Maternal deaths have skyrocketed for number of reasons in recent years, with health experts blaming increasing rates of preeclampsia and other maternal blood pressure disorder complications as well as drug overdoses. Past research indicates maternal death rates in the U.S increased nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020.

U.S. Maternal Death Rate Disparities

The highest increases in maternal death rates in the U.S., and the highest rates overall, are seen among Black women, the CDC found. In 2021, the maternal death rate for Black women was 69.9 per 100,000. This is 2.6 times the rate for white women during the same time period, which was 26 per 100,000 women.

In addition, the CDC found the maternal death rate for women over the age of 40 is seven times higher than that of women under the age of 25, at nearly 139 per 100,000 women compared to 20 per 100,000 women for women under 25, and 31 per 100,000 women for ages 25-39.

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Premature infants fed Similac or Enfamil cow's milk formula faced increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) or wrongful death.

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In a prior report, the World Health Organization found that more than 800 women die every single day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. The numbers highlight the lack of progress in improving maternal death rates especially among industrialized and high-income countries which have the means to combat this problem, but are not putting them to effective use.

However, the CDC indicates the numbers usually change significantly from year-to-year, and called for improved data collection to get a clearer picture of the problem.

“Maternal mortality rates fluctuate from year to year because of the relatively small number of these events and possibly due to issues with the reporting of maternal deaths on death certificates,” CDC researchers noted. “Efforts to improve data quality are ongoing, and these data will continue to be evaluated for possible errors.”

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