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NO COUNTRY FOR NEW MOTHERS

Black women giving birth in the US are 10 times more likely to die than women in Europe

A doctor performs an ultrasound on a pregnant woman
Reuters/Joshua Lott
Maternal mortality went up 20% during the pandemic
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published

Giving birth in the US continues to become more dangerous, especially for Black women. New data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the rates of maternal mortality rose dramatically during the first year of the pandemic.

At least 861 women died in 2020 of pregnancy-related causes. The overall mortality rate rose 20% between 2019 and 2020, going from 20.1 to 23.8 maternal deaths per 100,000. The rate for Black mothers went up even more, from 44 to more than 55 per 100,000 live births.

Prior to the pandemic, for every 100,000 live births, 20.1 women would die either during pregnancy or shortly after delivery. But in 2020, the rate rose dramatically, reaching nearly 24 per 100,000 live births, without accounting for the fact that the US has poor data collection for maternal health, and the official rate has traditionally undercounted deaths.

The US is an outlier for maternal health

The US has trailed the rest of the rich world in maternal death rates for more than two decades. Giving birth in America is several times more dangerous than it is in other wealthy countries. According to the latest World Bank data available, in Italy or Norway, the maternal mortality rate is 2 per 100,000, in the UK it’s 7, in Canada 10.

Recent policy interventions have sought to address the scourge of US maternal deaths, with a specific focus on reducing Black maternal mortality. Experts believe covid-19, which has disproportionately affected Black communities, contributed at least to some measure to the rise in deaths. Pregnancy puts patients at higher risk of death and hospitalization from covid-19.

Black women in the US have nearly three times the risk of pregnancy-related death of white women. They also run a risk that is 26 times higher than Italian women, and more than 10 times greater than women in Japan, or the EU. The rate is higher even than many middle-income countries, such as Mexico, El Salvador, or Tunisia, and significantly higher than the average of all upper-middle income countries.

Women above 40 are especially at risk

Among the new data published by the CDC, the mortality rate for older women is especially high. Overall, their mortality rate for 2020 was as high as 108 per 100,000 live births, but the figure pales when compared to Black mothers above 40, who faced a mortality rate of 263 per 100,000 live births.

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