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CDC: Maternal mortality rates plummet 2021 to 2022

In 2021, there were more than 1,200 maternal deaths in the US; by 2022, the maternal mortality rate shrunk to 817 deaths, signaling key improvements.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is out with new data that paints a hopeful picture for maternal health: the maternal mortality rate was down in 2022 compared to rates in 2021—way down, CDC said.

The data, prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics, showed a total of 22.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2022, compared with 32.9 in 2021.

That’s a pretty big drop and a welcome improvement, as the healthcare industry continues to grapple with a massive maternal mortality problem. In 2022, the Commonwealth Fund reported that the US remains the worst in the developed world for maternal mortality and racial maternal health disparities.

Per CDC, there were 817 maternal deaths in 2022. The agency used the World Health Organization’s definition of maternal death, listed as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”

That 817 figure is much lower than the maternal mortality rate in 2021, which was 1,205 total deaths. Instead, it’s more on par with maternal mortality rates from before the pandemic. In 2020, the maternal mortality rate was 861; in 2019, it was 754; and in 2018, it was 658.

This could indicate that COVID-19 exacerbated maternal mortality rates and that in 2022, the nation began to rebound.

But although maternal mortality rates improved for Black and Hispanic women, racial health disparities remain.

In 2021, there were 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births among Black women. By 2022, that number went down to 49.5. For Hispanic women, maternal mortality rates went from 28 to 16.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Despite those improvements, racial health disparities are still pressing. The Black maternal mortality rate was more than twice that of White women (49.5 versus 19 deaths per 100,000 live births).

The report did show promising movement for age-based maternal mortality. The maternal mortality rate for birthing people of advanced maternal age dropped from 138.5 to 87.1 deaths per 100,000 live births. The CDC also noted declines in maternal mortality for the 25-to-39 and under-25 crowds, although these declines were less pronounced.

This study comes on the heels of an American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology study calling into question the high US maternal mortality rate, stating that many of the maternal deaths documented in the nation are not due to pregnancy or childbirth.

The study centered on the pregnancy checkbox on death certificates, indicating that lax standards for checking this box have led to inflated maternal mortality numbers.

The CDC and other bodies, like the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, were quick to critique the study, stressing that US maternal mortality is at a crisis point. In particular, Black maternal health disparities are urgent.

“But where we still fall short is in successfully addressing significant, existing racial health disparities, which were mentioned only briefly in this manuscript,” read the statement, reads a public statement attributed to Christopher M. Zahn, MD, FACOG, interim CEO and chief of clinical practice and health equity and quality of ACOG. Additionally, the authors pointed out that mortality rates had increased for several conditions, including placenta accreta syndrome, cardiomyopathy, and preexisting hypertension. So there is still a lot of work to do."

“The authors have created discrete categories to discredit the pregnancy checkbox, which, while somewhat flawed in its implementation, was not created to fabricate a problem," the statement continued. "It was created to address an existing one. It is one of multiple sources of data we have—each with its own pros and cons, showing different aspects of maternal health outcomes—that help to provide information so that we can create actionable solutions."

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