The Maternal Death Rate Continues to Rise in the U.S.

May 8, 2018
Jill Sederstrom
Jill Sederstrom

Jill Sederstrom is a Contributing Editor

Public health officials and activists call for action to reverse the rising U.S. maternal death rate. 

The maternal death rate in the United States has continued to rise and advocates believe it's time to take action to reverse this trend.

According to study done by Global Burden of Disease (GBD) collaborators and published in The Lancet, the maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births was 26.4 in the United States in 2015, up from 17.5 in 2000.

"It is an issue because the maternal death rates are rising the last twenty years without public awareness or Congressional action to help reverse the trend," Ginger Breedlove, PhD, CNM, FACNM,  President and Founder of March for Moms, told Drug Topics. "We are the worst of all high income countries in the world, and spend more per capita than any other country."

National Public Radio and ProPublica recently conducted a six-month-long investigation into the maternal death rate in the United States. According to their findings, women in the United States are more than three times as likely to die in the maternal period than Canadian women and six times more likely to die as Scandinavian women.

Breedlove believes the death rate is higher in the United States for multiple reasons; contributing factors include lack of awareness of systems of care to implement evidence-based practices, a high cesarean section rate, a lack of adequate care to families, insurance restrictions, and a lack of transparency among healthcare systems with high rates of maternal deaths.

She also believes institutional racism that impacts women of color during their childbearing years is a factor in the high rate. According to data provided by March for Moms, maternal death is three to four times more likely in American Indian, Alaskan Native, and non-Hispanic black women than white women.

To address the high rate across the United States, Breedlove said the first step is to gather data to learn more about why this is happening.

"We also need to look at community-based models of care, where families can access services within their cultural context, and provide seamless care to all as needed," she said.

One of the obstacles to altering the trajectory of the trend is a lack of awareness about the high mortality rate among Congress, healthcare professionals, and others in the community.

Earlier this month, March for Moms held its second annual rally in Washington to try to draw attention to the issue. The organization has also launched a new advocacy campaign to encourage people to ask their state representatives to support bipartisan bills that would enact the Maternal Mortality Bill, which would address some of the issues.