HOUSTON (KIAH) – A majority of deaths among pregnant women and new mothers could have been prevented according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture

The data shows more than 80%, that’s 4 out of 5, of women died during pregnancy, delivery or up to one year postpartum could have been avoided if they had the “right care at the right time, according to Wanda Barfield, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

The numbers

The data published by the CDC is based on detailed assessments of more than 1,000 pregnancy-related deaths between 2017 and 2019.

Among pregnancy-related deaths with information on timing, 22% of deaths occurred during pregnancy, 25% occurred on the day of delivery or within 7 days after, and 53% occurred between 7 days to 1 year after pregnancy.

The leading underlying causes of pregnancy-related death include:

  • Mental health conditions (including deaths to suicide and overdose/poisoning related to substance use disorder) (23%)
  • Excessive bleeding (hemorrhage) (14%)
  • Cardiac and coronary conditions (relating to the heart) (13%)
  • Infection (9%)
  • Thrombotic embolism (a type of blood clot) (9%)
  • Cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle) (9%)
  • Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (relating to high blood pressure) (7%)

The breakdown

The leading underlying cause of death varied by race and ethnicity.

  • Among Black women, cardiac and coronary conditions were the leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths. 
  • Mental health conditions were the leading underlying cause for Hispanic and non-Hispanic White women. 
  • The leading underlying cause of death for Asian women was hemorrhage.

What can be done

More than half (53%) of pregnancy-related deaths happen up to one year after delivery. The report showed how critical it is for all healthcare professionals to ask whether their patient is pregnant or has been pregnant in the last year to inform diagnosis and treatment decisions. 

In addition, healthcare systems, communities, families, and other support systems need to be aware of the serious pregnancy-related complications that can happen during and after pregnancy. The CDC report urges everyone to listen to the concerns of women who are pregnant and were pregnant during the last year in order to provide them with the help they need.

Examples of prevention recommendations from MMRCs include wider access to insurance coverage to improve prenatal care initiation and follow-up after pregnancy, providing opportunities to prevent barriers to transportation to care, and the need for systems of referral and coordination.

Recently, CDC significantly expanded its investment in efforts to eliminate preventable pregnancy-related deaths, with new awards totaling $2.8 million to support additional MMRCs in nine jurisdictions.