Why Are Maternal Death Rates on the Rise in the U.S.?

Plus, what you can do to lower your chances. 

Maternal Death Rates nata-lunata/Shutterstock

Here's a startling statistic: In the U.S., the rate of maternal death during or shortly after childbirth rose 27% between 2000 and 2014, according to a new report published in Obstetrics and Gyneocology

In 2000, nearly 19 of every 100,000 women died during or within 42 days of giving birth. In 2014, the number was up to nearly 24 women out of 100,000.

"Certainly, maternal death is still a rare event," the study's lead researcher, Marian MacDorman of the University of Maryland, said, according to HealthDay. "But it's of great concern that the rate is not improving—it's increasing."

Why the increase? For starters, the system for reporting maternal deaths has improved since 2003—death certificates now include several check boxes for pregnancy-related issues, which might mean more maternal deaths are documented than before.

Better reporting likely doesn't account for the entire increase, though. Nancy Chescheir, MD, the editor-in-chief of Obstetrics & Gynecology, weighed in with a few reasons why maternal death rates might be so high these days: Women are having babies later in life, obesity rates are higher, and diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure run rampant. Women are simply going into pregnancy with more risk factors than before, which could certainly affect these rates of maternal death.

While the national maternal mortality rate is on the rise, California showed a decrease in incidences, with just 15 of 100,000 women affected in 2014. Chescheir suggested this might be because of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, a public health effort that has officials working to address two major causes of maternal death: Preeclampsia and hemorrhage during childbirth.

"They've done a fantastic job of rolling these resources out," Chescheir said. With that being said, an initiative like this can't work in all cases, as drug use and violence are major factors in rates of maternal death. Another study looked at maternal death rates in Illinois, finding that one-third of all deaths between 2002 and 2011 were tied to car accidents, homicide, substance abuse and suicide.

According to Chescheir, increased screening for depression, domestic abuse and drug use could help bring these numbers down significantly. Chescheir also stressed that women should not let this news scare them. "For the vast majority of women, pregnancy goes well, [but] it's important to remember that pregnancy is a time of some risk," she said

"Go into pregnancy in the best health possible. That's the first step."