Contrary to the global trend of decreasing maternal mortality, the United States—always looking to go against the grain, even when it means the death of American women—has seen an increase in maternal deaths since 2000.
In the U.S.*, maternal deaths, which—according to the New York Times—are “notoriously hard to count,” are classified as any death of a woman that’s related to labor or pregnancy complications that occur within a year of giving birth. Causes of death can include (but are not limited to) hemorrhaging, eclampsia, diabetes, and heart problems.
Between 2000 and 2015, global maternal death rates decreased by more than a third, but as reported by the Times:
The United States has become an outlier among rich nations in maternal deaths, according to data released Wednesday by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research group funded by the Gates Foundation and based at the University of Washington.
There were 28 maternal deaths — defined as deaths due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth — per 100,000 births in the United States in 2013, up from 23 in 2005, the institute found. The rate in 2013, the most recent year for which the institute had detailed data for the United States, was more than triple Canada’s. The institute is projecting that the American rate dipped in the last two years to 25 by 2015.
In the U.S., maternal death rates are highest among poor black women (though an increase is seen across all demographics):
Researchers have theorized that an increase in obesity — particularly acute among poor black women, who have much higher rates of maternal mortality than whites — may be contributing to the problem.
“The really scary thing to us is all the deaths from cardiovascular disease and heart failure. It’s a quarter of all deaths. There were almost none in the remote past,” Dr. William Callaghan, head the Maternal and Infant Health Branch in the Division of Reproductive Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells the Times.
In maternal mortality, the U.S. now ranks above Vietnam, Iran, and Romania. Sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNICEF, continues to have the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
*However, the World Health Organization defines maternal death as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.”