Nearly one in four pregnancy-related deaths was caused by a mental health condition, including suicide and drug overdose, according to newly released data. Maternal deaths that occur during pregnancy through one year postpartum are included in the compilation of data from 36 states.
Leading Causes of Maternal Mortality
After mental illness, excessive bleeding claimed the most maternal lives, 14%, while cardiac and coronary conditions accounted for 13%. Infection, thrombotic embolism and cardiomyopathy were each linked to 9% of deaths.
More than half of deaths, 53%, occurred between seven days and one year after pregnancy. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four in five deaths were preventable.
Enhanced Data Program
These are the first data to be released through ERASE Maternal Mortality, a program that aims to support more robust data collection about the causes of pregnancy-related death. The CDC launched Enhancing Reviews and Surveillance to Eliminate Maternal Mortality in 2019 in response to increasing maternal mortality rates and deepening disparities in deaths between women from communities of color and white women.
Since then, the federal government has awarded 39 states and one U.S. territory additional funding to enhance the work of Maternal Mortality Review Committees. These multidisciplinary committees, which include representatives from public health, obstetrics and gynecology, mental and behavioral health, forensic pathology and other stakeholders, convene to identify, review and characterize pregnancy associated death data.
Improving Prevention Efforts
A more comprehensive understanding of drivers of maternal mortality can better inform prevention efforts. Given the complexity of interrelated factors, intervention opportunities exist at the patient, provider, facility, system and community levels. Federal officials, in fact, suggest that “everyone can help prevent pregnancy-related deaths.”
Asking female patients if they are or have recently been pregnant can help inform health care providers’ diagnosis and treatment decisions. Likewise, listening to physical and mental health concerns raised by new moms is critical to linking them to the most appropriate care. Finally, expanding access to comprehensive insurance coverage can improve both prenatal and postpartum care, enhancing the opportunity to identify and mitigate risk factors before they become deadly.
The newly available data elucidate the causes of pregnancy-related mortality in America. Now, it’s up to policymakers and health care providers everywhere to make more informed decisions and implement interventions that will improve outcomes for pregnant women and new moms moving forward.