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Nation’s Maternal Death Rates, Disparities Rise during 2021

March 17, 2023

The nation’s maternal mortality continued its troubling trend during 2021, according to new federal data released this week.

On Thursday, the National Center for Health Statistics issued its latest report on maternal health, revealing a significant increase in deaths among pregnant people. The report also highlighted widening disparities by race, particularly for Black women.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic and tragic effect on maternal death rates, but we cannot let that fact obscure that there was—and still is—already a maternal mortality crisis to compound,” said Abbasi Hoskins, MD, FACOG, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement.

“Just as concerning are worsening racial health inequities and the fact that pregnant and postpartum Black people continue to make up a disproportionate number of maternal deaths at growing and alarming rates,” Hoskins noted. This trend must be stopped.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Overall:  For 2021, the maternal mortality rate was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births (1,205 deaths), a 38.2 percent increase from the prior year.
  • Concerning disparity:  The maternal mortality rate for Black women (69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births) was 2.6 times the rate for White women (26.6 per 100,000).
  • By age:   Maternal mortality increased with age. The rate for women over 40 (138.5) was 6.8 times the rate for women under 25 (16.9 per 100,000).
  • Data notes:  The maternal mortality rate does not reflect all deaths to pregnant or recently pregnant people due to reporting limitations.
  • Quotable:  “The latest data released by the National Center for Health Statistics show significant increases in U.S. maternal mortality rates in 2021 and send a resounding message that maternal health and evidence-based efforts to eliminate racial health inequities need to be, and remain, a top public health priority,” Hoskins said.

The CDC has launched a new campaign to address the concerning trends in maternal mortality, noting that more than 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are from preventable causes.

The “Hear Her” campaign seeks to increase awareness about the warning signs of pregnancy-related complications and support conversations about this important issue among patients, their support systems, and providers.

The report is available to review online.