10 Things You Should Know About Maternal Mortality In North America

How Serena Williams started an important conversation on the childbirth-related risks women face.

Maternal mortality rates in the United States have been on the rise since 1990, an unlikely increase when compared with countries such as Ireland, U.K, Norway, Italy, Spain and Germany. The U.S. mortality rate, twice that of Canada’s, is the worst record for a developed country.

Although there are varying factors contributing to these deaths, such as age, income, unplanned pregnancies and higher rates of C-section, 60% of deaths are preventable. The Maternal Mortality Review published by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined a death as preventible if, “there was at least some chance of the death being averted by one or more reasonable changes to patient, community, provider, facility, and/or systems factors.”

Serena Williams recently shed light on the complications women can face after childbirth and shared her own terrifying childbirth experience in an interview with VogueThe day after her C-section, she felt suddenly short of breath and, recognizing it as a symptom of a pulmonary embolism (which she has a history of), alerted her doctors right away. Despite her past experience with blood clots and embolisms, her concerns weren’t addressed by hospital staff immediately. This recounting of her experience helped put a spotlight on how women’s pains are often disregarded and ignored, especially black women. A PLOS Medicine study on the mistreatment of women during childbirth found that there was a pattern among several countries.

 

According to the PLOS study that took place in New York, “Marginalized women experienced gender, race and class-power inequities in the hospital settings, which did not meet their needs for respect and autonomy during childbirth. Women did not play an active role in their childbirth experience and did not receive supportive delivery care. They were often faced with racism and prejudice.”

Women are now speaking up about their own experiences with childbirth and how dangerous it really is for their concerns to be ignored as well as the discrimination they face. Several people posted on social media expressing their concerns about the health care system and the racial bias.

The following list is a compilation of facts related to maternal mortality in North America:

  1. In the U.S., black women are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth related causes. Source: CDC – MMRIA
  2. American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period. Source: WHO
  3. The U.S. maternal mortality rate has increased by 56% between 1990 to 2015. Source: The Lancet
  4. Hemorrhage and cardiovascular disease are the leading underlying cause of pregnancy related deaths. Source: CDC
  5. Women aged 35-44 are at the highest risk for pregnancy associated deaths. Source: CDC – MMRIA
  6. African Americans have higher rates of C-section and are more than twice as likely to be readmitted to the hospital in the month following the surgery. Source: NCBI
  7. Although most of the world has reduced maternal mortality within the past three decades, U.S. is one of the few countries where it’s increased significantly. Source: The World Bank
  8. As of 2015, the maternal mortality rate in Canada is back to what it used to be in 1990 at 7 deaths per 100,00 live births. Source: WHO
  9. Prince Edward Island has the highest maternal mortality rate in Canada. Source: Public Health Agency of Canada
  10. Canada’s maternity mortality ratio ranks 161 out of 184 countries. Greece ranks at 184 with the lowest rate of maternal deaths. Source: CIA