6 Myths About Maternal Mortality in the U.S.

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN on August 14, 2021

Although most maternal deaths are preventable, they have been increasing in the US. In fact, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries.

  • Man supporting wife giving birth in hospital
    Maternal Mortality: What You May Not Know
    Maternal mortality, or the death of a woman during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth, continues to be a problem throughout the world. Global health organizations have set ambitious goals and established public health campaigns to decrease the number of women who die as a result of pregnancy and birth. Despite global improvements, the maternal mortality rate in the United States has increased. Learn the surprising truth behind six common myths about maternal mortality in the United States and the risks American women face.
  • pregnant-woman-with-hands-on-stomach
    Myth No. 1: Death from childbirth is a thing of the past.
    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 700 to 900 American women die each year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications. In fact, national maternal mortality rates have been increasing. In 2020, the U.S. maternal mortality rate was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2016, the national maternal mortality rate was 19.9 deaths per 100,000 births. In some parts of the country, maternal deaths are even more common. For example, in Arkansas the maternal mortality rate in 2020 (the latest year statistics are available) was more than 40 deaths per 100,000 births.
  • Digital illustration of world map
    Myth No. 2: Maternal mortality is only a problem in developing countries.
    Globally, most maternal deaths—94% of them—occur in low or lower-middle income countries, according to the World Health Organization. The average maternal mortality rate in developing countries in 2015 was 239 per 100,000 live births, compared to just 12 per 100,000 live births in developed countries. However, America exceeds the average rate, despite easy availability of clean water and a sophisticated health system. According to a Save the Children report, the United States has the worst maternal mortality rate of any developed country in the world. A woman in the United States is more than 10 times as likely as a woman in Austria, Belarus or Poland to die of a pregnancy-related cause. In 2017, the United States ranks 50th globally for its maternal mortality rate.
  • Newborn Checkup
    Myth No. 3: There’s never been a safer time to have a baby.
    Statistically speaking, the late 1980s and early ’90s were a better time to have a baby. In 1987, fewer than 8 American women died for every 100,000 live births. Since then, maternal deaths have been on the upswing. Experts say improved reporting of maternal deaths contributes to, but does not fully account for the rise in maternal mortality. Other contributing factors include the prevalence of chronic health conditions among prospective mothers and unequal access to healthcare.
  • pregnant-woman-talking-to-doctor
    Myth No. 4: All women face an equal, miniscule risk of dying in childbirth.
    African American women are 3 to 4 times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy—or birth-related complications—and that disparity holds true even after controlling for socioeconomic status. From 2006 to 2010, the maternal mortality rate for black women in the United States was 38.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 12.0 and 11.7 deaths per 100,000 for white and Hispanic women, respectively. Age increases risk as well. Women between the ages of 35 and 39 are almost twice as likely to die of pregnancy complications as women in their early 20s.
  • Female doctor talking to a pregnant woman
    Myth No. 5: Maternal deaths are the result of incompetent medical care.
    It’s reassuring to think maternal deaths are avoidable with good healthcare. But while it’s true that appropriate prenatal, birth and postpartum care can decrease maternal mortality rates, some women die despite the availability of excellent medical care. In some cases, women die because a healthcare provider misses or mismanages a complication, such as bleeding. More commonly, a combination of advanced age and chronic health conditions, such as obesity or heart disease, increases risk to both mom and baby.
  • Mixed race mother admiring newborn baby son
    Myth No. 6: Nothing more can be done to reduce the maternal mortality rate.
    Other countries have reduced their maternal mortality rates via concerted public health efforts, and there’s no reason to think similar tactics won’t work in the United States. Britain decreased the number of women who die from preeclampsia, a common pregnancy complication, to just 1 per million by adopting a standardized approach to care. And in California, after healthcare providers introduced new ways to manage bleeding and preeclampsia, the state’s maternal mortality rate decreased from nearly 17 per 100,000 live births to about 6 per 100,000.
6 Myths About U.S. Maternal Mortality | Childbirth Complications

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men. Most recently, she is the author ofThe First-Time Mom's Guide to Raising Boys: Practical Advice for Your Son's Formative Years.
  1. Pregnancy-Related Deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-relatedmortality.htm
  2. Maternal Mortality. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs348/en/
  3. Maternal Mortality & Morbidity in the United States of America. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/93/3/14-148627/en/
  4. Bipartisan Legislation to Prevent Maternal Deaths. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/About-ACOG/News-Room/News-Releases/2017/Bipartisan-Legislation-to-Prevent-Mater...
  5. The Urban Disadvantage: State of the World’s Mothers 2015. Save the Children. http://www.savethechildren.org/atf/cf/%7B9def2ebe-10ae-432c-9bd0-df91d2eba74a%7D/SOWM_2015.PDF
  6. MacDorman, MF, Declerq, E, Cabral, H, & Morton, M. (2016) Is the United States Maternal Mortality Rate Increasing? Disentangling trends from measurement issues. Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Sep; 128(3): 447–455. Avail online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5001799/
  7. Maternal Mortality. America’s Health Rankings. http://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/2016-health-of-women-and-children-report/measure/maternal_mortality/state/ALL
  8. Advancing the Health of Mothers in the 21st Century. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/maternal.htm
  9. Research Overview of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity in the United States. Center for Reproductive Rights. https://www.reproductiverights.org/sites/crr.civicactions.net/files/documents/USPA_MH_TO_ResearchBrief_Final_5.16.pdf
  10. The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth. Propublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/die-in-childbirth-maternal-death-rate-health-care-system
  11. Exceptionally Deadly. The Economist. http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21657819-death-childbirth-unusually-common-america-exceptionally-deadly
  12. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality/2020/maternal-mortality-rates-2020.htm
Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 14
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.