Maternal Mortality on a Troubling Rise

by Liam Farrell | illustration by Hailey Hwa Shin

Nearly a decade after the United States last published official statistics on how many women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, new UMD research reveals an alarming rise in maternal mortality nationwide.

The study, published by Obstetrics & Gynecology and led by Marian MacDorman of the Maryland Population Research Center on campus, estimates the maternal mortality rate in 48 states and Washington, D.C., increased 26.6 percent from 2000–14. Deaths increased from 18.8 per 100,000 live births to 23.8.

Two states were outliers: California’s rate actually declined, while Texas’ rate doubled.

“These are really bad deaths. They are high-impact deaths,” MacDorman says. “The ripple effect in the community is huge in having a young mother die.”

The U.S. has not published official data since 2007 because states unevenly implemented federally recommended revisions to death certificate questions dealing with pregnancy. MacDorman believes this lack of updated data is problematic, especially in light of a United Nations goal to reduce the worldwide maternal mortality rate by three-quarters.

“A lot of interventions are data-driven,” she says. “If you don’t know what’s wrong, it is hard to fix it.”

The study, conducted in partnership with researchers from Boston University and Stanford University, analyzed U.S. mortality data files from the National Center for Health Statistics and tried to correct for the irregular death certificates. MacDorman says the next step is determining exactly why so many pregnant women and new mothers are dying in America, when the World Health Organization found 157 of 183 countries had decreases from 2000–13.

“There is a decade where we don’t know what the heck was going on,” she says. “It is very concerning.”


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