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U.S. maternal death rate grew 38% in 2021, CDC data shows

The percentage of mothers who died while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of their pregnancy grew at an alarming rate in 2021, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. File Photo by Julia Fiedler/Pixabay
The percentage of mothers who died while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of their pregnancy grew at an alarming rate in 2021, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. File Photo by Julia Fiedler/Pixabay

March 16 (UPI) -- The percentage of mothers who died while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of their pregnancy grew at an alarming rate in 2021, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

The new CDC report published Thursday used data from the National Vital Statistics System, and could show how the rise in mortality rates may have been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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For the report, the CDC calculated mortality rates as the number of deaths per 100,000 births. The data shows that mortality rates have been rising since well before the pandemic but began to spike after the emergence of COVID-19.

In 2018, the CDC recorded 3,791,712 live births and the death of 658 expectant or new mothers for a mortality rate of 17.4 per 100,000 live births.

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The number of live births declined in 2019 by about 50,000 as the number of deaths rose by about 100 for a maternal mortality rate of 20.1.

In 2020, when the pandemic emerged, the number of live births dropped sharply -- decreasing to about 3.6 million new babies born. However, the number of maternal deaths rose by more than a hundred for a mortality rate of 23.8.

Birth rates rose again in 2021 to 3,664,292 while the number of deaths spiked to 1,205 -- driving the mortality rate up to 32.9.

The CDC noted in the report that the maternal mortality rate among non-Hispanic Black women was more than double the rate for White women, with 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 26.6 per 100,000.

Maternal death rates for women over the age of 40 were six times higher than those for women under the age of 25, according to the report.

There were 126.9 deaths per 100,000 among women over the age of 40 in 2021 -- more than double the rate for the same demographic in 2018.

Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, chief medical and health officer for the infant and maternal health nonprofit March of Dimes, told CNN that COVID-19 was responsible for the increased mortality rates.

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"Women were at increased risk for morbidity and mortality from Covid. And that actually has been well-proven in some studies, showing increased risks of death, but also being ventilated in the intensive care unit, preeclampsia and blood clots, all of those things increasing a risk of morbidity and mortality," she said.

The report follows one published by the Government Accountability Office in October, which found that COVID-19 was a contributing factor in 25% of maternal deaths in 2020 and 2021. The GOA report had analyzed data from the CDC to produce its report.

That report also found the maternal death rate for Black or African American women was disproportionately higher compared to White and Hispanic women.

The United States has the highest maternal death rate of any developed nation, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

In its own report last year, the Commonwealth Fund said those rates are likely due to "a high rate of cesarean sections, inadequate prenatal care, and elevated rates of chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes and heart disease."

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