Since 2007, the government had held off on releasing an official estimate of expectant and new mothers who died from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. It waited for the data to get better. But the new, long-anticipated number falls short.
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Late last month, maternal health experts from around Illinois were videoconferencing in Chicago and Springfield, poring over the files of expectant and new mothers who’d died in the state in 2017. Many of the deaths could have been prevented if only medical and other providers had understood the special risks that women face during this critically vulnerable time.
Then, someone’s phone buzzed: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had just released its new, long-awaited U.S. maternal mortality rate, a number that had not been updated since 2007, when the federal government decided states weren’t doing a good enough job of capturing all of the deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth. It had taken more than a decade for states to implement new procedures, like adding a checkbox to death certificates, to flag pregnant women and new mothers who had died.
Now, here it was, from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System: 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018 — an estimated 658 lives lost. It was worse than the last official calculation, 12.7 deaths per 100,000 births, and it placed American maternal health outcomes where experts suspected they would land, worst among wealthy nations, and 55th among all countries, ahead of Ukraine but just behind Russia.