U.S. Maternal Mortality Rates Increase Almost 20%, Per New Report

Black woman holding pregnant belly

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Key Takeaways

  • Maternal deaths in the United States increased almost 20% from 2019 to 2020.
  • Black women had a maternal mortality rate three times the rate of white women in 2020.
  • Lifestyle choices and prenatal care can help in the fight against maternal mortality.

The maternal mortality rate in the United States increased almost 20% from 2019 to 2020, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to the surge in deaths overall, the report notes significant differences when it comes to race, with higher maternal mortality rates among Black women. The report provides a look at the numbers behind the increase in maternal deaths and may serve as a catalyst to focus on health and safety precautions during pregnancy.

What Do the Numbers Say?

The World Health Organization defines maternal mortality as death “during pregnancy and childbirth and within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy.” In 2018, there were a total of 658 maternal deaths, accounting for 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2019, the number of deaths jumped to 754, increasing the mortality rate to 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births. By 2020, there was a substantial climb to 861 deaths, with a mortality rate of 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. From 2018 to 2020, that is an increase of over 30%.

The disparity in numbers based on race is also noteworthy. Black women had a higher mortality rate than both white and Hispanic women, with a rate of 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020, an increase of 44% from 2019 to 2020.

Age also heavily factored into the maternal mortality numbers. Women 40 years old and older had a mortality rate of 107.9 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2020, dwarfing the rate of 22.8 deaths among women ages 25 to 39. For women under age 25, the rate was 13.8. The 40-year-old and older age group experienced a 43% increase in deaths from 2019 to 2020. “Differences in the rates between age groups were statistically significant,” according to the CDC report.

Why Is There an Increase?

The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet its mortality-rate numbers compare poorly with other developed nations. The nation’s 2018 rate of 17.4 per 100,000 deaths doubles and even triples the rates of other countries.

Though the CDC report does not list specific causes for the increase in maternal deaths, COVID-19 related illness likely plays a part. Pregnant people who contract the virus are more likely to spend time in the intensive care unit, need ventilator breathing support, or die from the virus than those who are not pregnant. A study chronicling the deaths of pregnant people from 2020 until 2021 found a high mortality rate among those with COVID-19. Additional research also found that pregnant people diagnosed with COVID-19 were more likely to experience maternal morbidities.

The pandemic lockdown had a detrimental effect on pregnancy care. The closures of doctors’ offices and medical facilities impacted prenatal appointments. Supply chain issues caused shortages of healthy foods and even vitamins and minerals.

Fighting Against Maternal Mortality

Taking preventative measures is key for the health of each mother and her baby. Working to manage the factors that are within your control can make all the difference in a successful pregnancy. Attending your prenatal appointments is key. A healthcare professional can help make sure your pregnancy is progressing appropriately and pick up on any problems or issues. Doctors and nurses can also provide safe and effective medical care if you become sick. If you fall into a high-risk category for maternal mortality, educate yourself on steps you can take to create the safest situation for you and your baby. While you cannot alter your race or your age, doctors may be able to provide additional care tips to help in each situation.

What This Means For Your

As a pregnant person, these statistics from the CDC are sobering. Use your voice to advocate for your health and make use of the power you have by attending regular prenatal checkups. It's worth the effort to achieve the ultimate result of a successful pregnancy for mom and baby.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maternal mortality rates in the United States, 2020.

  2. World Health Organization. Maternal deaths.

  3. The Commonwealth Fund. Maternal mortality and maternity care in the United States compared to 10 other developed countries.

  4. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Coronavirus (COVID-19), pregnancy, and breastfeeding: A message for patients.

  5. Kasehagen L. Covid-19–associated deaths after sars-cov-2 infection during pregnancy — Mississippi, March 1, 2020–October 6, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70.

  6. Epelboin S, Labrosse J, Mouzon JD, et al. Obstetrical outcomes and maternal morbidities associated with COVID-19 in pregnant women in France: A national retrospective cohort study. PLOS Medicine. 2021;18(11):e1003857. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1003857

  7. International Food Policy Research Institute. Vitamins and mineral supplement global market report: 2020-30: COVID-19 implications and growth (Ameritrade).

By LaKeisha Fleming
LaKeisha Fleming is a prolific writer with over 20 years of experience writing for a variety of formats, from film and television scripts, to magazines articles and digital content. She has written for CNN, Tyler Perry Studios, Motherly, Atlanta Parent Magazine, Fayette Woman Magazine, and numerous others. She is passionate about parenting and family, as well as destigmatizing mental health issues. Her book, There Is No Heartbeat: From Miscarriage to Depression to Hope, is authentic, transparent, and providing hope to many.Visit her website at www.lakeishafleming.com.