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CDC Publishes First Maternal Mortality Rate in Over a Decade

Thursday, January 30, 2020  
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center on Health Statistics released a report today that included the first U.S. maternal mortality rate published by the agency in nearly a decade-- 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018. This rate is higher than the last published rate of 12.7 per 100,000, which was based on 2007 data.

Improved ascertainment as a result of the implementation of the 2003 revised U.S. Standard Certificate of Death, which included a question about pregnancy status—also referred to as the “pregnancy checkbox”—is thought to be one of the reasons for the increase in documented maternal deaths. Experts say that this uncertainty shouldn’t cause alarm or deter efforts to continue to work to reduce maternal deaths in the United States. 

“Though it is difficult to know what the true rise in the ratio of maternal deaths has been, it is critical that all maternal deaths be counted,” said Debra Bingham, DrPH, RN, FAAN, founder of the Institute for Perinatal Quality Improvement and Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. “It is clear from these data that the maternal mortality ratios in the United States are too high and that much more needs to be done to have ratios that are as low as those in other developed countries.”

Bingham continued, “On-going reporting and continued efforts to expand quality improvement efforts are needed to ensure risk-appropriate care, including those to safely reduce the overuse and misuse of medical interventions like medically unnecessary induction of labor and cesarean births. These data also point out the importance of continuing to perform state-based and national maternal mortality reviews.”

The report details the new process implemented by NCHS to mitigate possible errors in the coding of maternal deaths beginning with 2018 data.

About the Institute for Perinatal Quality Improvement (PQI)

PQI, works to expand the use of quality improvement to eliminate preventable perinatal morbidity and mortality and ensure equitable outcomes, also hosts educational conferences and trainings both in-person and online. The organization was founded in 2016 by Debra Bingham, DrPH, RN, FAAN, and relies on the oversight of multi-stakeholder professionals from diverse backgrounds to carry out its mission.


Note: The definition of maternal death used in this report is "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 pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes."

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