Eighty percent of pregnancy-related deaths in 36 U.S. states between 2017 and 2019 were found to be preventable, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Advocates for maternal health find the report sobering, noting that the problem is getting worse, not better. Since the last report, there has been an increase of 8.8%.
The previous maternal mortality report covering 2008-2017 in 13 states found that 66% were preventable.
“It’s just pretty alarming that four out of five pregnancy-related deaths in our country, potentially could have been prevented,” Dr. Zsakeba Henderson, March of Dimes senior vice president and interim medical and health officer said.
“A death is considered preventable if the committee determines that there was at least some chance of the death being averted by one or more reasonable changes to patient, community, provider, facility, and/or systems factors,” according to the Maternal Mortality Review Committees that compiled the data.
Nearly 23% of the preventable deaths were related to mental health.
“Mental health conditions is a leading cause of death overall, of the top causes that they identified in this report. And mental health conditions includes deaths due to suicide, or due to overdose, or poisoning related to substance use disorder, which is also been identified as a worsening problem in our country,” Henderson said.
Other leading causes of death included bleeding, heart conditions, infections and blood clots.
The findings also show ongoing disparities across racial and ethnic groups.
American Indian, Alaskan Native and Black mothers are at highest risk. They’re up to two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes, the report found.
“It’s not just people who die, but the complications of sickness that happens with pregnancy is a real problem in our country. And this problem has been getting worse and not better,” Henderson said.
So, what’s the big-picture answer and what can help? Everything from policy solutions down to improving the care that mothers receive, and also making sure that they have access to care.
The March of Dimes is urging Congress, for example, to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
“One of the things that March of Dimes continues to advocate for is the availability and access to insurance coverage up to a year after pregnancy because a large proportion of these deaths happen from one week after pregnancy up to a year; more than half of them occur up to a year after pregnancy,” Henderson said.
Woman also can be their own best advocates.
Advice from Henderson for women before, during and after pregnancy:
- Feel empowered to ask questions.
- Be in communication with your provider.
- Keep all recommended appointments, even postpartum.
“A huge percentage of women do not follow up for their postpartum visit. And that’s a very vulnerable time when complications can still occur. And it’s so important that you make sure you keep those appointments, make sure that you’re aware of the warning signs,” Henderson said.
- Be aware of symptoms and signs of problems.
- Know when something is serious and the doctor should be called or seen.
- Have support systems you need in place.
“Your family members, friends, whoever’s around you to support you around the time of pregnancy and your postpartum period — that they’re also aware and armed with this information,” Henderson said.