U.S. maternal deaths increased from 754 in 2019 to 856 in 2020, a 14% jump, a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics reveals. Although potential reasons for the increase weren’t studies, it’s thought disruptions to the healthcare system because of the pandemic are partially responsible. In response, campaigns have been launched to improve maternal health and minimize pregnancy-related deaths.
Maternal death rates higher for Black and Hispanic women
Although all demographics experienced high maternal mortality in 2020, Black and Hispanic women had the biggest increases. Specifically, Black women had the highest maternal mortality rate with 55.3 deaths for every 100,000 live births (a 26% increase since 2019). Alternatively, white women had 19.1 deaths per 100,000 births (a 7% increase), while Hispanic women had 18.2 deaths per 100,000 births. The maternal death rate for Hispanic women increased significantly by 44% in 2020, despite this demographic having the lowest mortality rate overall.
Poor heart health plays a role
Heart disease is responsible for over one in four maternal deaths. Additionally, around just two in five women who gave birth in 2019 had good heart health before getting pregnant (being overweight or obese and/or having diabetes and high blood pressure were the main risk factors). Moreover, today’s mothers are generally older than they were in the past, which also contributes to the higher maternal mortality rate. Older women tend to have more complex medical histories, further complicating pregnancy. Medical malpractice is also to blame in some cases. Poor quality treatment, delayed diagnosis, and inadequate safety measures are some of the most common harmful oversights in pregnancy-related medical care. In addition to the physician, the labor and delivery nurse also plays a key role in delivering babies safely. It’s a nurse’s responsibility to protect the patient’s best interests. If a doctor’s action (or inaction) risks potential harm to the mother or baby, the nurse is required to notice and address the issue (taking it to higher levels if necessary) until the issue is resolved, therefore preventing birth injury or even fatality.
Efforts to improve maternal healthcare
In 2021, Black Maternal Health Week (falling between April 11th-17th every year) was declared by the Biden administration. The White House has also committed to eliminating “unacceptably high maternal mortality and morbidity rates and to [tackling] health disparities that are rooted in systemic racism” by increasing funding to “train healthcare workers to recognize bias”, as well as protecting legal healthcare rights. Additionally, a new campaign called HEAR HER also aims to educate women about healthy pregnancies. By teaching women to identify abnormalities and warning signs during pregnancy and after birth, it’s hoped communication between pregnant women and medical staff will be improved.
The rise in U.S. maternal mortality is a worrying trend requiring urgent action. By focusing on improving training in healthcare staff and educating mothers on pregnancy health, it’s hoped the rising maternal death rate will start to decrease.