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New study challenges scale of maternal health crisis in the US

·2 mins

Hundreds of women in the United States die from complications related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the time after giving birth each year. The country’s high maternal death rate makes it an outlier among developed nations. Maternal mortality has surged in the US in recent years, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, the Biden administration launched a plan to address the maternal health crisis facing the nation. However, a new study suggests that maternal mortality rates in the US may be lower and more stable than federal data suggests – though still very high. In 2003, the National Center for Health Statistics requested that states add a ‘pregnancy checkbox’ to death certificates to better track maternal mortality. All 50 states implemented this change by 2018. However, the reliance on the pregnancy checkbox may have led to an overestimation of maternal mortality in the US. The new study found that using alternative methods to identify maternal deaths resulted in a significantly lower maternal death rate compared to the methodology from the National Vital Statistics System. Several previous studies have also noted that maternal mortality rates appeared to significantly increase after the introduction of the pregnancy checkboxes. While the surveillance methods are not perfect, experts agree that addressing high maternal mortality rates remains crucial. Efforts are being made to improve data collection and refine surveillance methods. Texas has implemented a four-part method to identify maternal deaths that has been in place for years. However, experts emphasize that there are still significant disparities in maternal death rates, particularly among Black women. Despite the new study’s suggestion that the overall maternal mortality rate in the US is not rising as much as previous data indicated, the US still has a higher maternal mortality rate compared to other high-income countries. There is still much work to be done to reduce the rate of maternal deaths and improve tracking of these deaths in the United States.