Trends in Maternal Mortality Rates

By Kate Anastas
Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Underreported maternal mortality rates have made it difficult to improve outcomes during pregnancy. Now, recent data has given a baseline to start with and understand what the U.S. can do better to prevent pregnancy-related deaths.

The CDC began collecting data through the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System in 1987. Medical epidemiologists reviewed and analyzed data of women who died during or within one year of pregnancy due to pregnancy complications in the U.S. Rates showed:

  • 1987: 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births
  • 2017: 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live births

Common Causes of Pregnancy-Related Deaths (from 2014–2017)

  • 15.5% Other cardiovascular conditions
  • 12.7% Infection or sepsis
  • 12.5% Undisclosed noncardiovascular medical conditions
  • 10.7% Hemorrhage
  • 8.2% Cerebrovascular accidents
  • 6.6% Hypertensive disorders
  • 5.5% Amniotic fluid embolism
  • Maternal death related to hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and anesthesia complications has declined.
  • Maternal death related to stroke, cardiovascular conditions and other health conditions has increased.

Pregnancy-Related Deaths by Race & Ethnicity (from 2014–2017)

Per 100,000 live births:

  • 41.7 deaths in non-Hispanic Black women
  • 28.3 deaths in non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native women
  • 13.8 deaths in non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander women

Current data

More recently, the CDC National Center for Health Statistics released the first national data on maternal mortality since 2007. Some highlights of the data include:

  • Maternal mortality rate: 17.4 deaths per 100,000 births (2018)
  • 658 deaths from maternal causes (2018)
  • Continued widened racial and ethnic gaps
  • High maternal mortality rates in women age 40 and older. Women age 40 and older were almost 8 times more likely to experience death than women younger than 25.

The Bottom Line: While there are limitations to data, most reports reflect upward trends in maternal mortality. Even if these trends are largely attributable to reporting changes, the medical community can continue to educate patients on prenatal health concerns and promote access to care for expectant mothers.