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Are Maternal Mortality Rates Increasing In The U.S.?

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Maternal mortality refers to the number of mothers who die due to complications during their pregnancy or within six months of giving birth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 700 women in the U.S. die from pregnancy-related complications, of which over half were preventable.

In 2020 the U.S. maternal mortality rate was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, resulting in 861 deaths. For a few years now, the maternal mortality rate has been rising—2016’s maternal mortality rate was 16.9. So, why do we have such a high maternal mortality rate? Well, the Lanier Law Group, P.A. team is here to break down the various reasons.

Factors Affecting the Maternal Mortality Rates

There have been many studies done to assess why the U.S. has such a high maternal mortality rate. Rather than finding one answer, many researchers found multiple factors that lead to our high numbers. These factors include:

Underlying Illnesses

Underlying illnesses can make the risk of death while pregnant higher than you think. Chronic illnesses like obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease are more common in expecting mothers, especially in women of color. Heart disease and stroke accounted for more than 1 in 3 deaths (34%), but other leading causes included severe bleeding and infection.

Lack of Mental Health Resources

Postpartum depression affects about 15% of mothers, which has sadly led to many deaths by suicide. This is more common later in the postpartum period; however, developing postpartum depression can put a mother at greater risk of developing major depression later on. Without proper counseling, antidepressants, or hormone therapy, a mother’s condition can last up to a few months.


Sadly, the use of opioids during pregnancy has jumped since 1999. According to the CDC, in 2019, about 7% of mothers reported the use of prescription opioids during pregnancy. Some risks associated with opioid use during pregnancy include:

  • Being born preterm
  • Being born with birth defects
  • Rehospitalization after birth
  • Being born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is a group of conditions that occur when babies withdraw from substances they were exposed to before birth. These signs of withdrawal typically occur within 72 hours of birth. Some signs of withdrawal in babies include:

  • Tremors
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Increased sweating
  • Dehydration

Cost of Care

In comparison to countries with nationalized health care, America has one of the worst systems designed for pregnant women. Despite spending more on hospital-based care, many mothers who rely on Medicaid or don’t have insurance are unable to access affordable natal care.

Racial Disparities

Certain racial groups experience higher mortality rates than other groups. Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications in comparison to white women. There are many reasons for this; however, one of the main factors has to do with systemic racism.

Not only are black and indigenous women less likely to have access to insurance, but they are also less likely to have access to proper care. Due to historical segregation, black and indigenous women tend to live in areas where historical segregation has existed for decades. This means they are at higher risk of receiving outdated care which can lead to a world full of complications.

On top of that, there are a plethora of stereotypes in the medical field about black women that have become deadly. According to this recent study, it was found that black patients were more likely to be labeled as “agitated” or “non-compliant,” which has led to doctors ignoring requests when a complication arises.

Reducing These Numbers

Although maternal death rates are on the rise, there are some preventative measures mothers can take to assist with this new journey. Here are some tips to help mothers ease their transition from delivery to postpartum:

  • Seek care immediately- Once you find out you are pregnant, it’s best to seek medical care as soon as possible so your doctor can begin proper prenatal care.
  • Address any underlying conditions- You should let your doctor know if you suffer from underlying health conditions immediately as this can put the baby’s life at risk. This also gives your doctor a chance to adjust any medications you are taking at the time, as your previous prescription may be harmful to your baby.
  • Find specialized care if necessary- If you are considered a high-risk mother, you may need to receive care from a hospital with specialized equipment and providers. If your doctor fails to address the need for specialized care, it’s advised to seek another medical professional's opinion before proceeding with normal care.
  • Ask about postpartum life- As a mother, never be afraid to ask about what life will be like postpartum. Ask your doctor about potential warning signs of postpartum depression and for mental health resources to aid you through this difficult time.

We’re Here to Help

Navigating motherhood can be overwhelming at times, but it’s easier when you have the resources to do so. If your doctor acted negligently throughout your pregnancy, you might have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Our attorneys at Lanier Law Group, P.A. have years of experience handling some of the most complex birth injury cases. We believe that negligent healthcare professionals should be held responsible to the fullest extent of the law. When you’re ready, contact our Birth Injury Attorneys ar (855) 757-4204 or visit our Contact Us page to get started on a free consultation.