Death During Childbirth Has More Than Doubled in the Past 30 Years

This chart shows the rate of women who die in childbirth or, more generally, of pregnancy-related complications:

Here is the same chart for the United States. Due to differences in methodology, you can’t directly compare the raw numbers for Europe and the US. But you can certainly see which way the trend is going:

The top chart is adapted from a ProPublica story published last year. Click the link for all the gruesome details, but the bottom line is that no one truly knows why maternal mortality has been rising in the US for three decades:

The reasons for higher maternal mortality in the U.S. are manifold. New mothers are older than they used to be, with more complex medical histories. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so many women don’t address chronic health issues beforehand. Greater prevalence of C-sections leads to more life-threatening complications. The fragmented health system makes it harder for new mothers, especially those without good insurance, to get the care they need. Confusion about how to recognize worrisome symptoms and treat obstetric emergencies makes caregivers more prone to error.

….Earlier this year, an analysis by the CDC Foundation of maternal mortality data from four states identified more than 20 “critical factors” that contributed to pregnancy-related deaths. Among the ones involving providers: lack of standardized policies, inadequate clinical skills, failure to consult specialists and poor coordination of care. The average maternal death had 3.7 critical factors.

….“It’s never just one thing,” said Roberta Gold, a member of the Council on Patient Safety in Women’s Health Care, whose daughter and unborn grandson died from a pregnancy-related blood clot in 2010. “It’s always a cascading combination of things. It’s a slow-motion train wreck.”

This may all be true, but other rich countries have somehow managed to reduce these slow-motion train wrecks by nearly half since 1990. It’s hardly an intractable problem.

It’s insane that the maternal death rate in the US has more than doubled since 1987. It’s even more insane that black women die at higher rates than in Uruguay, Kazakhstan, China, Vietnam, and Libya, just to name a few. What the hell is wrong with us?

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Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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