Deaths of pregnant women in the US fell in 2022, falling significantly from a six-decade high during the pandemic, new data suggests.
More than 1,200 American women died in 2021 during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, according to a final tally released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2022 there were 733 maternal deaths, according to agency preliminary dataalthough the final number is likely to be higher.
Officials say the 2022 maternal mortality ratio is on track to approach pre-pandemic levels. But that’s not good: the rate before Covid was the highest in decades.
“From worst to almost worst? I wouldn’t exactly call it an achievement,» said Omari Maynard, a New Yorker whose partner died after giving birth in 2019.
The CDC counts women who die during pregnancy, during childbirth, and up to 42 days after delivery. Excessive bleeding, blood vessel blockages, and infections are the main causes.
Covid can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, and experts believe it was the main reason for the 2021 spike. Burnt-out doctors may have increased the risk by ignoring the concerns of pregnant women, some advocates said.
In 2021, there were about 33 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The last time the government recorded such a high rate was in 1964.
What happened «isn’t that hard to explain,» said Eugene Declercq, a longtime maternal mortality researcher at Boston University. “The increase was related to Covid.”
Previous government analysis It concluded that a quarter of maternal deaths in 2020 and 2021 were related to covid, meaning that all of the increase in maternal deaths was due to coronavirus infections or the broader impact of the pandemic on healthcare. Pregnant women infected with the coronavirus were nearly 8 times more likely to die than their uninfected peers, according to a recent study published by BMJ Global Health.
Pregnant women’s bodies are already under strain, their hearts forced to pump harder. Other health problems can make your condition more fragile. And on top of that, «Covid is going to make everything much worse,» said Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, March of Dimes health and medical director.
It didn’t help that vaccination rates among pregnant women were disappointingly low in 2021, particularly among black women. Part of that was related to limited vaccine availability and the CDC not fully recommending vaccines for pregnant women until August 2021.
“At first, there was a lot of mistrust of the vaccine in black communities,” said Samantha Griffin, owner of a doula service that primarily serves families of color in the Washington, DC, area.
But there is more to it than that, she and others added. The 2021 maternal mortality rate for black women was almost three times higher than for white women. And the maternal mortality rate for Hispanic American women that year increased by 54% compared to 2020, also exceeding the mortality rate for white mothers.
More than a year into the pandemic, many doctors and nurses were feeling burned out and spending less time in person with patients.
Providers at the time «needed to make quick decisions and maybe not listen to their patients as much,» Griffin said. «Women were saying they thought something was wrong and they weren’t listening.»
Maynard, who is 41 and lives in Brooklyn, said he and his partner experienced that in 2019.
Shamony Gibson, a healthy 30-year-old woman, was ready to have her second child. The pregnancy was uneventful until her contractions stopped progressing and she underwent a C-section.
The operation was more complicated than expected, but their son Khari was born in September. A few days later, Shamony began complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath, Maynard said. Doctors told her she just needed to relax and let her body rest from the pregnancy, she said.
More than a week after giving birth, her health worsened and she begged to be taken to the hospital. Then her heart stopped and her loved ones called for help. The initial focus for paramedics and firefighters was whether Gibson was taking illicit drugs, Maynard said, adding that he was not.
She was hospitalized and died the next day from a blood clot in her lungs. Her son was 13 days old.
“They weren’t listening to her at all,” said Maynard, an artist who now speaks as an advocate for maternal health.