Maternal mortality rate in U.S. declines, but racial disparities remain: CDC data

FILE-A doctor performs an ultrasound examination with a pregnant woman. (Photo by JASPER JACOBS/AFP via Getty Images)

New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention details that pregnancy-related deaths in the nation have dropped back to pre-pandemic levels. But, Black women still had higher rates of maternal deaths compared to other women. 

Thursday’s report details the final maternal mortality data for 2022 and the agency recently released provisional findings for 2023. 

About 680 women died in 2023 during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth, according to provisional CDC data. That’s down from 817 deaths in 2022 and 1,205 in 2021 when it was the highest level in over 50 years. 

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However, the report noted that racial disparities remain, with death rates in Black moms being more than two-and-a-half times higher than that of white and Hispanic mothers.

One explanation for the decline in mortality rates is COVID-19, Donna Hoyert, a CDC maternal mortality researcher, told the Associated Press. 

Citing experts, the AP noted that the coronavirus can be dangerous to pregnant women. And, in the worst days of the pandemic, fatigued physicians may have added to the risk by ignoring pregnant women’s worries.

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Fewer death certificates mention COVID-19 as a contributor to pregnancy-related deaths. The count was over 400 in 2021, but fewer than 10 last year, Hoyert shared with the AP. 

According to the Associated Press, the CDC counts women who die while pregnant, during childbirth, and up to 42 days after birth from conditions considered related to pregnancy. Excessive bleeding, blood vessel blockages, and infections are the leading causes.

There were about 19 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2023, according to the provisional data, which is in line with rates seen in 2018 and 2019.

RELATED: US infant mortality rate rose to 3% in 2022, largest increase in 2 decades, CDC says

To address lowering deaths and problems related to pregnancy, doctors are stepping up their efforts to fight infections and address blood loss, Dr. Laura Riley, a New York City-based obstetrician who handles high-risk pregnancies, tells the AP. 

This week, the March of Dimes launched an education campaign to get more pregnant women to consider taking low-dose aspirin if they are at risk of preeclampsia — a high blood pressure disorder that can harm both the mother and baby, the AP reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.