Maternal Morbidity: A Public Health Disaster Masquerading as a Series of Private Tragedies

May 17, 2017 | Strategic Insights for Health System


​Infant mortality is at an all-time low, but the number of women in the United States who die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes is, by some measures, the worst in the developed world, according to a story copublished by and ProPublica on May 12, 2017. Addressing America's staggering maternal mortality rate, the article describes a healthy 33-year-old neonatal intensive care nurse who died after vaginal birth from pregnancy-related hypertension at her own hospital. American women are three times as likely to die during their maternal period as Canadian women, and six times as likely to die as women in Scandinavia, the article said. A recent analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 60% of such deaths are preventable. But while the maternal mortality rate is dropping in every other "wealthy" country, the ProPublica article said, U.S. maternal deaths increased between 2000 and 2014. The rate of maternal morbidity is higher among African-Americans, low-income women, and women living in rural areas, but pregnancy complications "kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level." The authors spent several months analyzing social media and other sources and identified more than 450 expectant and new mothers who have died since 2011, compiling a list that included teachers, journalists, homeless women, insurance brokers, and "more than a dozen" doctors and nurses. Causes of deaths included heart problems, massive hemorrhage, blood clots, and infections, as well as some rarer causes.

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