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Pregnancy-Related Deaths

Public Health Grand Rounds

Dad and sad child

Public Health Grand Rounds is a monthly webcast created to foster discussion on major public health issues. The November 2017 session, Meeting the Challenges of Measuring and Preventing Maternal Mortality in the United States, discusses efforts to analyze and prevent future deaths.

Women in the United States are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than other women in the developed world. More details are needed to better understand the actual causes of death, but research suggests that half of these deaths are preventable. Racial disparities persist. The risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is 3 to 4 times higher than those of white women. View the presentation and earn free continuing education.

The death of a woman during pregnancy, at delivery, or soon after delivery is a tragedy for her family and for society as a whole. Sadly, about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications.

During pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through many changes. These changes are entirely normal, but may become very important in case there are complications or problems. A pregnancy-related death is defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy or within one year of the end of pregnancy from a pregnancy complication, a chain of events initiated by pregnancy, or the aggravation of an unrelated condition by the physiologic effects of pregnancy.

What can women do to prevent a pregnancy-related death?

Many factors influence pregnancy-related health outcomes. It is important for all women of reproductive age to adopt healthy lifestyles (e.g., maintain a healthy diet and weight, be physically active, quit all substance use, prevent injuries) and address any health problems before getting pregnant. Visit your health care provider at recommended and scheduled time periods to discuss if or when you are thinking about getting pregnant. This is important to make sure you receive appropriate medical advice and care, and have healthy pregnancies.

A healthy pregnancy begins before conception and continues with prenatal care, along with early recognition and management of complications if they arise. Health care providers can help women prepare for pregnancy and for any potential problems during pregnancy. Early initiation of prenatal care by pregnant women, and continuous monitoring of pregnancy by health providers, are key to helping to prevent and treat severe pregnancy-related complications.

What is CDC doing?

CDC is committed to preventing pregnancy-related deaths, and ensuring the best possible birth outcomes. CDC conducts national pregnancy-related mortality surveillance to better understand the risk factors for and causes of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States. Findings are released regularly in the scientific literature and on the CDC Web site. Learn more about CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System.

CDC scientists also provide technical assistance and guidance to support state and local Maternal Mortality Review Committees. These committees work to identify and review deaths of women who die as a result of pregnancy and develop recommendations to prevent future deaths. In 2016, CDC, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, and the CDC Foundation (funded through an award agreement with Merck on behalf of its Merck for Mothers program) announced a new initiative to help reduce maternal mortality, Building U.S. Capacity to Review and Prevent Maternal Deaths.

As a result of this collaboration, CDC and partners launched Review to Action, a website housing a range of resources to support Maternal Mortality Review Committees. The site promotes the translation of findings into action and also serves as a resource for best practices in maternal mortality review. A key element of this work is the Maternal Mortality Review Information Application (MMRIA), a free, new data system for committee review information that, when used, provides stronger, more standardized and detailed data than what was previously available. A preliminary review of data shared by states proposes where we could go as a nation as more states are able to collaborate around a shared data framework and understand how the data can inform prevention activities.

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